At the weekend we went to say goodbye to a place that has become very special to us - my favourite place in Australia - North Stradbroke Island.
We have been there quite a few times and, barring the time, many years ago, when we had booked an expensive, but tiny apartment for three days and it rained and blew a gale so hard that we didn't dare set foot out of the front door with the children, lest one of them blew away - each visit has been idyllic. In general, we camp on Cylinder beach, but we didn't have time for that, so we got the foot ferry over and then caught a bus to Point Lookout.
From Point Lookout, you can take the North Gorge walk - a walkway built round the cliffs, where every step affords views so beautiful they hurt the eye. I try to keep as far away from the kids as I can, because, even now, I panic to see them anywhere near the edge. I am fine with heights myself, have no problem with standing on the edge of a cliff and looking down several hundred feet to the surf, exploding on knife edged rocks below etc etc, but I can't STAND seeing the kids anywhere near the edge. I walk round, gritting my teeth, clenching my fists, but at some point (or many points, possibly) I can't help it and start squawking at them to "Keep Away from the EDDDDDDGGGGGE!!!!!!!!!!!!" in the manner of a banshee - even if there are four yards between them and any drop. This time we were with Meg and her three kidlets - Holly, the youngest, being only four - but I managed to complete the walk without severing my vocal chords, so am quite proud of myself.
And apart from all that, it is a wonderful walk - we saw several pods of dolphins, a shoal of huge and unidentified fish, a group of three large manta rays, winging their way round the rocks, several turtles, a two metre shark - all these creatures in an azure blue-green, sapphire sea - I'm not going to even bother trying to describe it, but upload some pictures
After the walk, we went and stuffed ourselves with fish 'n' chips, revelling in the fact that Straddie is one of the few places in Queensland where they haven't chosen to enhance the natural beauty of the place by adding in rows of squat, orange and yellow painted concrete blocks with big plastic signage in primary colours.
Then down to the beach, where we were reminded just how deceptive the Pacific Ocean can be. "Oh, how lovely and calm it is," I thought. Hmmm. Am beginning to think that my thoughts are not, in general, to be trusted.
Yes, the sea rolled and hummed, the surf not too high, the waves shloosing on the beach with all the tenderness of a mother singing to her baby. And then we got into the water.
"Swim between the flags," is the Australian safety device, but this meant, of course, a constant effort to stop yourself being dragged down shore. Having been caught in a rip in Vanuatu earlier this year (rather spectacularly - about eight of us had to be rescued by boat) - I can safely say that this current was almost riptide strength, so of course there was more squawking from me. Didn't help that I couldn't wear my glasses and, with my fuzzy eye sight, I nearly found myself hauling a middle aged lady out of the water, thinking it was one of the children. (Dark hair, dark swimsuit.) Luckily I noticed just in time....Still, the water was beautiful, clean and green and cool and salty and I am going to miss this soooo much.
Then there were rock pools and jelly fish, a walk up a huge sand dune to take in the views and make us feel virtuous, paddling in the mini lagoon, where the delightful children took turns throwing cane toad spawn at each other.
And then, back on the ferry again, rushing across the darkening water in the last glow of the sunset. Looking out over the sea (Yes, after 15 years in Oz I still think of it as "the Sea"!) at dusk always makes me ache inside, the vast loneliness of it all - and the words of the songs that we used to sing in another part of the world, another ocean, always come back to me, "Hil ya ho boys, let her go boys, bring her head round, now all together," and "Speed Bonny Boat, like a bird on the Wing", thus bringing images of Africa, Scotland and Australia together into one potent mix.
We will miss you Straddie.