Following my morning routine of a run, breakfast, and a cold shower, I run into Carol-Anne in the hall of King’s Cross Backpackers. Carol-Anne is one of the many amazing fellow travelers I’ve met during my stay here so far, along with Tom, Matt, and Max, all of whom I met my first day here (we all share the same lovely, stifling, 8-man hostel room). Carol-Anne tells me she’s planning to hit the beach later — do I want to come?
Carol-Anne still has to eat so we agree to meet up in a little over an hour in the hostel’s main room to head out. Since I’ve already eaten, I head out to kill time at a cafe down the street and run into Tom, who’s enjoying reading a newspaper without having to actually care about anyone or anything mentioned within it (something with which I relate quite a bit). I sit down with him to enjoy my cappuccino and to catch up on journalling for the past few days before I forget anything, but soon just wind up chatting instead. Figuring the more the merrier, I invite him to come along with Carol-Anne and me to the beach today and thus our beach-going party becomes three!
At 11 a.m. we head out for King’s Cross Station to take a train to a bus station to Coogee Beach. From there, we’ve been told, we can make the pilgrimage along four kilometers of gorgeous coastline to Bondi Beach. The public transportation route is a bit confusing for we out-of-town folks, but with the combined wit of Carol-Anne and the reliability of Google Maps, we make it to the Coogee Beach bus stop without incident. The ride takes over an hour, but it’s a great way for us to get to know each other a little better. Carol-Anne is from France, and despite the language barrier, is quite possibly one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met, and Tom, from England, similarly makes for some truly lively conversation. On the way over, the three of us make a right scene with our cycle of talking, laughing, not quite understanding each other, and then laughing some more.
When at long last we step off the bus — towels tucked under our arms and sunscreen in ample supply — an enormous raindrop lands splat right on top of my head. Then another…and another. It’s no more than a drizzle but it’s infuriatingly timed — it couldn’t have rained on the hour-long bus ride over?!
Thankfully, after those initial few raindrops, the sky holds out for us and we head out to explore the beach.
We start by heading towards a hill off to the side of the cove-like beach to get a view of the coastline and there, we run into something called the Coogee Beach Baths. Intrigued, we head over to take a look.
The Baths turn out to be natural pools protected from the swift tides and rough surf of the main beach by a shallow wall of rocks. Waves slam against the seaward side of the boulders but what water does make it past the rocks glides smoothly into pools below, sending soft waves flowing through the pool. We immediately pick a rock to dump our stuff on and make our way down the steps to the water’s edge. Carol-Anne hangs back, taking pictures to stall while we test the water. She’s the smartest one of the three of us — the water is freezing. There’s no sun to warm it or us and with a nice breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean, we’re not about to catch a break once we get out of the baths, either. Then again, when in Sydney…
It turns out to be better once you’re in. Tom and I eventually convince Carol-Anne to join us (and by convince I mean push her in…) and we all stand chest-deep in the pool for awhile, laughing as the surprisingly strong currents from the incoming waves pull us from our precarious, tip-toed perches on the soft stones underfoot. The floor of the pool is covered in big rocks, like on a riverbed, which are carpeted in bright green algae. Long strands of seaweed grow from between the stones, making me leap clear out of the water every minute or so as it wraps lovingly around my legs. (I really should have known better than to read up on “fun” facts about Australian marine life before coming here. Deadly stingrays, sea snakes, and jellyfish are enough to make anyone jumpy…well, anyone except local Sydneysiders, apparently…)
The algae covering the stones, luckily, behaves itself much more. In fact — unlike the slimy, slippery algae I’ve come to know from an entire youth of falling fully clothed into creeks and streams — this stuff is soft and, dare I say, fluffy. It’s like walking on a teeny-tiny little tropical rainforest, with each section of algae made up of hundreds of little broccoli tufts connected by a carpet of green beneath. Not only is it fun to look at, it also happens to be extraordinarily fun to walk over, thanks to its sponginess (and the fact that it was quite un-slippery). I know this is far more than anyone wants to know about the consistency of algae in one particular area of a mostly-unknown beach in Sydney, but really, this stuff is amazing!
Ok, ok, so moving on…
After perhaps thirty minutes at the pools we decide to head over to the actual beach and relax for a while before making the trek to Bondi. We plop down on our towels, smother ourselves in sunscreen, and relax, chatting and laughing and watching our fellow beach-goers with amusement. Tom and Carol-Anne smoke “rollies” and I sit back and enjoy the benefits of looking cool by association while avoiding the unfortunate side-effects that such cool, European habits have on lung tissue.
When the smoking break is done and we feel sufficiently relaxed, we gather up our things and traipse back up the hill from which we just came, bypassing the baths and heading up the coast. Within minutes we’re already taking our first (of what I imagine will be many) pit-stop at a beautiful sandstone outcropping with jaw-dropping views of the Pacific.
Even after we leave that gorgeous sandstone cliff, the views continue to amaze. We walk for hours, plodding along happily — sometimes left entirely to ourselves and sometimes battling hordes of other tourists. We chat and laugh and joke around, stopping very frequently for pictures (mostly Carol-Anne and I, Tom just jokes he’ll get all the pictures he needs from the two of us). We make our way up sidewalks shrouded in jungley shrubs, past million-dollar, oceanfront mansions, and across more rocky bluffs than I can count as we make our way from stunning beach to stunning beach. In all we pass six official beaches, each unique in its own way.
When we finally appear to be just one beach away from Bondi, we decide to make a pit stop for lunch. We’re all pretty exhausted by now (the sun, though fickle, has made quite a few appearances, and despite the ocean breeze and mostly overcast sky, the temperature is easily in the low to mid nineties). So, at Bronte Beach, we make our way off of the coastal walkway and peruse the little strip of cafes and bars across the street from the beach. We eventually settle on a little brunch place with outdoor seating, an excellent view of the waves crashing in at Bronte, and a truly spectacular-looking menu of breakfast and lunch options.
I don’t know if it’s the heat, or the dehydration, or simply a testament to how hungry we all are, but it turns out to be, hands down, the best meal I’ve had in Sydney so far. It’s so good, I’m not even mad when they completely forget about my order and serve me forty minutes after Carol-Anne and Tom (okay, so I’m a little irritated, but the food more than makes up for it).
And so, one delicious, albeit delayed, meal and two cigarette breaks later, we hit the road again, anxious to get to Bondi.
The last part of the walk is just as incredible as the rest has been, with impressive sandstone cliffs and sweeping views, and even another cute little oceanside public pool to help spruce things up along the way.
This whole walk has felt like some sort of strange pilgrimage, so when we finally round the corner and see Bondi, it’s like seeing the Holy Land. Even without the weird, cultiness of the trek here, it’s hard not to be impressed. The beach is enormous — a giant golden crescent sprinkled with colorful beach goers.
Now I realize this doesn’t seem that impressive compared to the long straightaways of sand and surf you find in Santa Monica / Venice or even Ponte Vedra / Jax Beach, but after walking several hours from little cove to little cove, this is quite the sight. Especially since, upon closer inspection, the beach is not as idyllic as the ones I, at least, have come to know. Waves slam into the cliff walls along the edge of the inlet with such force, we all watch the group of young cliff divers there with a sort of morbid anticipation, expecting to see someone get smashed up against the rocks at any moment. Meanwhile, down on the sand, we can see lifeguards patrolling tirelessly, using a megaphone to call in tourists at risk of getting carried away by rip currents and, during their breaks, getting interviewed for Official Bondi Rescue (yeah, they have their own reality show about saving people’s lives).
This is no docile little Florida beach.
We make our way down the last stint of the coastal walk and finally arrive at the beach seawall (basically just an extra functional concrete walkway). Though we’d seen the outstanding show of color from the coastal walk, now that we’re here we can see that every inch of the wall is covered by a graffiti masterpiece.
Apparently, after decades of chasing off hooligans with spray cans, the city decided to turn the seawall here into an outlet for renowned graffiti gurus and budding teenage art stars alike. Thus, since the 70s, locals and tourists alike have been graced with this beachside museum of work done by the biggest names in the graffiti world. The pieces cycle through every six months so it never gets boring (or monopolized by the aforementioned big names) and the entire system of showcasing street art has been used to reach out to vulnerable youth in Sydney and get them involved in the community.
Yeah, I see you with your inspirational, community-building art, Bondi. I see you.
We walk around on the seawall for a while taking pictures and ogling at the art pieces, a vast majority of which preach some pretty powerful socio-political messages (as all things born from the 70s should). Before long, though, Carol-Anne has to say goodbye to go meet up with a friend and she and Tom and I part ways. Tom and I aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to Bondi yet (after all, we did just walk all day to see it — we can’t leave without at least jumping in the ocean once), so we stomp out into the sand and start looking for a place to dump our stuff. It doesn’t take long and after only a few moments of hesitation, we make a break for the water.
You know how I said the water at the baths was freezing? I’m beginning to think they call them “the baths” because of more than just their shape.
The water here at Bondi is impressively cold. The weather, ever sneaky and sadistic, has decided to do away with the heat and sun of our walk and has graced us instead with more cool breezes and overcast skies. Let the universe note: we refuse to be lumped in with the faint-of-heart. We wade out onto a sandbar until we’re up to our bellies and then rip the bandaid off, diving headfirst into the crystal clear expanse of frigid blue water. Much like at the baths, once we’re in, we’re in, and it becomes really pretty fantastic. We frolic around in the waves for some time, enjoying the periodic ray of sunshine and the sight of surfers out past the breakers. Sadly, though, it doesn’t take long for the adrenaline or numbness or just plain-old enthusiasm to begin wearing off. As the chill sets in, Tom and I look at each other, and almost without a word agree: this has been super fun but oh my goodness it’s cold, we should go. We make our way out of the water about as smoothly and calmly as one can in strong, shallow surf (so not very smoothly or calmly at all), and head back to our spot on the soft sand.
There we sit, relaxing and drying off, for a long time — talking every now and then but mostly just soaking in the smell of the surf and the feeling of flour-like sand underfoot and the tug of the soft breeze in our hair.
All good things, though, must sadly come to an end, and since it’s getting on towards evening, we decide to pack up and get going. Back at the hostel this morning, Tom, Carol-Anne, Matt, Max and I had decided we should all go out to get dinner and drinks together in one of Sydney’s trendy nearby suburbs. If we’re going to get back in time to shower and change before that, we had better get going.
Apparently, everyone else has the same idea, and every bus stop within a quarter mile of Bondi has a line long enough to fill up two busses. Not that it’s an issue for us — we love walking. We just walked all the way from Coogee to prove it! What’s another 3.2 kilometers? Right?? I guess it works out for the best. Everyone always says you have to walk before you can run…
I knew Sydney would make a runner of me yet.