Sunday, 19 May 2013

A British day out at Bondi Beach


Bondi Beach, Australia. For me, that means slate-grey skies and lashing rain.

Great weather for surfers, less so for sun-worshippers. Image © Anita Isalska
Bondi wasn't a dream destination for me, but I had a picture in my head. A golden stretch of sand, crowded with lithe sun-tanned bodies, each wave crowned by a wiry surfer. Maybe Bondi Vet would be jogging by, rushing to the aid of a wallaby with sunstroke.

Exploring a well-known destination has pitfalls. Maybe the sight will exceed your expectations to the point where you bore you friends with photos forever after, or maybe the reality falls so flat that you'll find yourself being that traveller, the one who sniffs that the Alhambra Palace isn't all that. Most often, being faced with a travel icon quietly subverts what you pictured.

Not good weather to build sandcastles. Image © Anita Isalska
British culture is packed with references to Bondi as a surfie paradise. There's an onslaught of TV programmes about would-be expats to Australia, always replete with shots of sun-kissed Aussies jogging and laughing on Sydney's most famous shore. These images usually form part of a soft-focus montage of barbecues, boxing kangaroos and the Great Barrier Reef.

It was my final day in Sydney, and my last chance to check out Bondi. It was also the worst in a series of storm-battered days. Flooding and high winds had been wreaking havoc across the NSW coast for days, but I hit the beach anyway.

Brave souls at the Bondi Icebergs Club outsdoor swimming pools, looking out over foamy water. Image © Anita Isalska
Through the whipped-up sand, I could still see how beautiful Bondi was. And I had the rare pleasure of seeing it empty of tourists and sun-worshippers. Having to squint against the sand being blown in my face (and tasting the grit for hours afterwards) dulled the charm, but I was here, damn it! Living the Australian dream (as seen through an aspirational British lens) except having brought the weather with me, a hundred fold.

Watching the waters. Better than being in it, in this case. Image © Anita Isalska
The one solace of terrible weather is the excuse to indulge, so stormy Bondi has to answer for a steep sushi bill, some very unnecessary pancakes, and an unwearably tacky T-shirt purchase. It was all beginning to seem a little familiar. This rainy beach day out had a lot in common with my childhood summer holidays on the coast of Wales: ducking the rain, watching violent waves lashing the shore, comfort-eating through cold weather. I'd come a long way for a rainy beach day out, but at least I was seeing the place without its holiday gloss.

Dangerous currents - but a whole beach to myself. Win. Image © Anita Isalska
The flight to Hobart the next day took us from stormy NSW to a warm autumn day in Tasmania. After wringing out my clothes, seeing Australia's least balmy state under a rare blue sky was one reversal of fortune I could really get behind.

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