With the steady approach of summer, I’ve been feeling the urge to start getting on down to the beach. Anticipation has been building in my mind. The smell of the ocean approach; drying seaweed, salt thick on the wind. The soft, snow like crunch of sand underfoot. The gentle lapping of waves breaking over your toes. It’s too much to think about, right? There’s only one thing to do with an itch like that; scratch it!
I remember coming back from the country. That was the longest I’d ever spent so far from the sea. My first glimpse of the ocean, wasn’t even the real ocean; Port Phillip bay, just a salt-water lagoon. I remember pretending that three months away from the open water has been some kind of a challenge. Like coming from a small island give me some kind of deep connection to the waves. I am not and never have been a sailor. The truth is, although I am drawn to the water; the vast, endless horizon mixes with the murky depths to truly terrify me. Still, strangely, it seems like home. The subtle hint of salt combines with the slowly drying seaweed. The sand has a yellow glow to it, it looks soft and inviting but I know that it will give way to a coarse, grating crunch the instant the ball of my foot connects. I refrain. I didn’t even stop to take a photograph. I just smiled at it and walked on.
Port Phillip Bay, and beyond, is lined with beaches. From previous outings and adventures you’ll already know that I’ve seen a pretty reasonable number of what’s in easy reach of Melbourne. I’ve got some rough plans to head out further East in the future as word keeps reaching me of the sublime Wilson’s Promnotory National Park. Soon my friends, soon. For now, I’m sticking to the natural harbour.
A few weekends ago it was Brighton. Goodness me had I forgotten how hot it can get in this city. 34 degrees is still someway off the dizzying heights we’re likely to hit over the summer. It was by all accounts beach weather. Brighton makes the guide books thanks to its bright, colourful beach huts that line the foreshore. There’s no doubt, they’re pretty cute. Tourists flock here for an iconic photo, I’m not gonna pretend I was doing anything else. I’m not above enjoying the obvious hot spots in and around the city.
The city had other plans. When Elena and I arrived at the beach it was still super hot. Lovely, I thought we may even sneak in an early season swim. I discovered last year that the sea in these parts doesn’t get that warm that quickly, you need a good few weeks of constant heat to get a pleasant temperature. Hey, I’m not that fussy. I’ve swam in the sea in the UK at the end of September, but in my slowly dawning old age I’m starting to find colder water more unpleasant than refreshing. The temperature, as it is like to do, dropped about ten degrees in the time we were on the beach. By the time I went for a paddle it was definitely past my threshold for enjoyable, but it was still pleasant feeling my feet sink into the soft sand. The wind had picked up now, this was good news for the kite and wind surfers out in the bay, but for us, taking repeated blasts of gravel to the face it was time to head home.
I don’t think I’ve yet told you about one of the few major inconveniences of living in my apartment. Just across the lane-way that our balcony overlooks is a nightclub. If I was a party animal this would be fantastic news; based on the vibrations through the walls, and the pumping inconsistencies of bass, it’s probably a pretty good joint. Doing a little research into the place I found that they had scheduled a sixteen hour rave. I don’t know what kind of person enjoys that kind of thing, but Elena and I decided that it wasn’t for us, so we’d better get out of there.
We’ve got some big plans on the horizon so we couldn’t afford anything fancy but after a quick ring around to her cousins and uncle, Elena found that we could head down to their home in Dromana and enjoy a lazy, laid-back weekend on the relatively peaceful Mornington Peninsula. We took off on the Friday night to make the most of it. Saturday was spent slowly getting out of bed, enjoying a leisurely breakfast and making the most of the distinct lack of throbbing tunes. As the day got going we decided we’d better head down to the beach. It wasn’t an ideal day, overcast in the kind of way that you know as a pasty-pale young man is the day you’re most likely to suffer from savage sun burn. That didn’t stop us from getting the best out of the beach.
We walked out on to the pier. The water down here is beautifully clear. It stayed almost the same depth right out to the end of the wooden jetty. At the end I could see fish flitting about in the shallows. A lone fisher was casting lines out. Suddenly, from out beyond the pier there was a panicked squawking. A seagull had caught one of the hooks around its wing. It flapped around, desperately trying to get unstuck. The three people who had walked out behind us jumped straight into action. One lady started slowly reeling in the line, all the while the gull was struggling, throwing itself under the surface, trying anything it could to get free. Another lady plucked the bird out of the water and pinned it’s head. The man with them then gently removed the hook before they let the poor thing loose. It flapped, stretched, wobbled just a little and returned to flight as if nothing had happened. It was a moment worthy of applause.
I don’t know if it was that summer hasn’t got into full swing yet, or simply because the sky wasn’t permanently blue but we had the luxury of the beach almost entirely to ourselves. We paddled, raced each other along the sand, as an adult who tries to avoid such things I had forgotten quite how difficult running on sand actually is; at one point worrying that I might have created a new set of angles for my ankle to work on, and I dragged my feet at every opportunity to get that dream Instagram shot to remind everyone back home how much better off I am than them. Just kidding guys, I’m sure winter is really treating you well…
We spent our evening eating snacks, watching movies, doing as little as possible. It was frankly, quite lovely. We took a similar approach on Sunday morning, slowly getting up, packing up our things so that we’d be ready to leave when ever we decided it was time to head home. Having already knocked the Point Nepean National Park off the list last time we came down, we decided to head a little inland to check out the Enchanted Maze. I don’t know about you but I don’t think I’ve been into a maze since I was may twelve or thirteen. I remember hours wandering with a hand on the wall, wondering what would kill me first, fatigue or dehydration? I was a little bit intrigued, maybe even excited to go back to the thought of seeking enjoyment from being stranded between two huge hedge walls.
The journey to the centre wasn’t as difficult as you might expect. I think that we might have made a rather fortunate decision at the beginning and walked into the exit rather than the entrance. It’s still easy to see how quickly as a younger man you could be drawn to marginal panic after losing your bearings after a few dead-ends and forgotten turns. Beyond the enchantment of the original labyrinth, there were plenty of ornamental gardens and over varieties of mazes on offer; a spring maze formed of rusted mattress frames, a 3D maze with ghostly paintings of oriental sorcery and soldiers and of course, the classic mirror maze.
I remember fetes, carnivals, any event that might draw a crowd of dodgy rides and attractions. The mirror maze was my one true nightmare. It was hot, smokey and for some reason the idea of walking with at least one hand in front of me was beyond comprehension. I still remember eventually coming out from one to laughs from family members. It was apparently very obvious that I had struggled, the large red mark rising on my forehead a testament to the number of walls I had walked into. Fortunately, the only real challenge with my latest entry into one was realising that the final mirror was in fact attached to a door.
Mazes aside, the gardens were stunning and it was a beautiful place to spend yet another lazy afternoon. Despite of my “must go places, must do things” attitudes, I’ve realised that sometimes it’s pretty great to just do nothing. Especially if that nothing can be done lying in the sun with the sound of waves breaking beyond your feet.