The narrator recalls a memorable trip to Australia’s Sunshine Coast
People call the Gold Coast Australia’s Miami. They sing the praises of how it attracts swarms of tourists to a world where skyscrapers pierce a sky speckled with stars and nightclubs pulse with frenetic music, of bikini-clad meter maids and gleaming pools, of glitter and shimmering allure. Slip onto a golden beach crowded with laughter that floats on the warm breeze, that curls around you like a cat’s tail. Lay a picnic blanket beneath an endless dome of sky. Looking onto the panorama of turquoise sea, tell yourself: this is paradise.
It was not the Gold Coast my friend Ivy and I were traveling to. It was the Sunshine Coast, its twin up north, and I was skeptical. Others visiting the one-hundred sun-kissed kilometers that comprised its wonders had called it enchantingly beautiful. On the first afternoon, I looked out onto the sand—a sun-kissed shore that could’ve been plucked from anywhere on Earth—and skepticism wormed into my thoughts.
Yet the next morning, we made a trek with our families out to the Point Cartwright Lighthouse: something of a local icon. Built and automated in 1978, the building was showing signs of disrepair, and it had been painstakingly rebuilt, now with a fresh coat of paint. This meant we couldn’t explore the rabbit warren of rooms carved into its stone. After exploring the lighthouse’s exterior, I found myself in a little glade surrounded by trees. On plaques fixed to pieces of wood, I read obituaries, blessings, grievances. Born Asleep, read one. Our little baby boy. Gone Fishing, read another. This chance discovery was a monument to grief, and I felt both humbled and somber when I read so many of those names— even an infant who had been born and died on the same day, its plaque next to a heartbreaking picture of a baby with angel wings.
We wended our way through rocky tips that rose from the ground like giants’ fingers to the shore. The sea crashed gray and forbidding against the sand, which trickled into my sandal no matter how hard I shook it. It whipped the rocks, sending up colossal sprays of foam, like a prisoner lashing against the bars of its cage. I breathed in the briny air and let my little worries be washed away by the sea’s clash and fury. I have always loved the wild spaces of nature, where you can be drowned, you can be paralyzed, you can lose yourself in its elemental force.
You can be buried, scattered with the sweeping tide. Confronted with the ocean’s mighty thunder, one can forget everything if they try.
After an afternoon spent shopping and watching movies, my family walked to the beach. We were one of few—clouds brewed violently in the sky. I stopped protesting aboutsafety afterthe clouds slid apartand a shaftofsunlightstreamed through the storm, glowing luminous gold against the gray. It was extraordinary and a little frightening too. The clouds drew on, and the pocket of peace stayed, and it seemed like we were the only people on Earth. We walked on towards the west and the sun, bathed in purple-gold against the darkness. It was as if we were on a journey to the ends of the Earth.
Some things never change; your faculty for wonder is one. I turned that moment over and over, knowing it would become a precious memory.
On the third day’s evening, when Mum invited me to go to the beach with my brother Justin and Ivy’s sister Bella, I jumped at the chance. The night wrapped velvety around us, rich with the scent of salt and jasmine. The wind whistled through the curve of the dunes. Justin and Bella scampered towards the east, their hair tangling around their cheeks.
Though I tried to stop myself, I found myself chasing Bella and Justin, laughing. This freedom, all by ourselves on a Maroochydore night, released some buried sadness in me. All my worries, I imagine, were lost along with the tide.
My family left Maroochydore on the fourth day, but impressions of that holiday will last. It’s a place of refreshment and peace, where you can taste salt on your tongue and the wind wraps around your ankles as if beckoning you on an adventure. Parrots found on our balcony who seemed to recognize our curious selves as one of their own. That molten gold sun that traced a trail through the churning sea. The sea’s long, sorrowful moan threading into my sleep. The salt that crept into sandals, into sofas, into floorboards, into everything.
Though we left Maroochydore, those memories will stay with me forever.