A short drive north from Surfers Paradise will land you right in the middle of theme parks with roller coasters, artificial wave pools and people dressed to look like movie stars. A short drive south, and you find yourself in part of the coast that time seems to have passed by – Burleigh Heads. We went south.
It’s Friday night and Nanette and I are taking advantage of an offer by our friends, who I’ll call Brian and Amy, to spend a night with them at their holiday unit in the heart of Burleigh (like all Aussies, we never use the second part of double bunger town names, so Burleigh Heads is Burleigh, Surfers Paradise is Surfers, and Wagga Wagga is, well, you get the idea).
It’s a warm evening. We’re sitting out on the balcony of the fourteenth floor apartment, watching the lights of small boats drifting across the bay. I turn to Brian. “So, why do you guys come all the way to the Gold Coast for holidays when you’re only fifteen minutes from the beach back home in Port Macquarie? After all, you’re both retired.”
“Ah,” says Brian, “it’s the serenity. And, besides, this place is great for cycling. I just love to jump out of bed at dawn, grab a bike, then follow the beach roads to Surfers and back. If I want a change, I get up around 4AM and do a quick dash into the hinterland. Either way, I’m back here in time to have a morning coffee on the balcony with Amy.”
Amy picks up the story. “Yep, it’s the serenity. I just love that coffee with Brian first thing every morning. Then, we go shopping!” I’m a bit perplexed about how their coffee times manage to match up, then I remember that, like beauty, “first thing in the morning” is in the eye of the beholder. Which leads to my next question, what are we going to do tomorrow? I have horrible visions of squeezing my less than buff body into some borrowed lycra and puffing around the streets scaring unsuspecting tourists.
7:30AM. We wake to the pleasant scent of coffee in the air. To my relief, there’s no cycling today. Apparently the compromise is we’ll all have a leisurely breakfast, then take a relaxing stroll along the boardwalk. No lycra. No shops. Sounds great, in fact we could – hey – what’s that? Out across the bay there’s a tell-tale spurt. “Ah guys, I think I just saw a whale!” Nanette looks sceptical. “Oh sure, we’re fourteen floors up. Maybe it had little tiny wings or – oh wow – there it is!”
We spend the next hour watching as first one pod of humpbacks, then another, then another emerge from the depths to roll, splash and leap at intervals across the bay. They’re a long way off, but it’s still amazing to watch them enjoying a little bit of Gold Coast vacation time before they start the long trek back to their Antarctic feeding grounds.
Finally, it’s time for that beach walk. As I may have mentioned, Burleigh has kept true to its origins as a paradise for surfers and has bucked the development trends of its more famous northern neighbours. Yes, you’ll see a few high-rise apartments, but cross the esplanade and you’re instantly transported back to the beaches you think you remember from your childhood. And today, to top it all off, there’s some sort of surf carnival happening.
It’s the final day of the world famous Burleigh Ocean Swim championships. Well, maybe not world famous, but still popular with the locals. Like local contests everywhere, there’s a relatively small collection of athletic looking contestants milling around waiting for their start, watched by a motley collection of families and friends. To my surprise, some of the contestants look about my age. Brian looks at me. “Do you reckon we could try for a late entry?” I look at the trim taut bodies in their Speedos and lycra ocean swim vests. Nah. Maybe next year.