The next morning, we continued our drive to Myall Lakes. We passed a number of luminous road signs warning of the dangers of koala bears and kangaroos that could spring out at any given moment. We were definitely not in Britain any more. We found a chance to pull over and snap a few Instagram-worthy shots of Jenny posing near the sign. Yet I couldn’t help but think that any koala with the misfortune to face-plant Jenny’s bonnet is sure to be offered an express return delivery back into the highest tree. We would not be so fortunate in the event of hitting a kangaroo however, as we almost discovered later on our trip.
We approached a river crossing and drove Jenny onto a short chain ferry to reach the national park. But due to an unfortunate, unforeseen road closure, we were unable to visit the main part of the lake. We had no choice but to skirt around it and trail onwards towards Mungo Brush that rested on the coastline. The moment Matty screeched on the hand break, I hopped out of the car with anticipation like a child on her first visit to the seaside. A golden blanket of sand swept my feet into a warm embrace; my first touch of an Australian beach. We packed our swimming gear with a little too much optimism. Cold blasts of winter’s chill and post-stormy weather carried on the wind, and we found ourselves reaching for the H&M knitwear the moment we detected a slight cold brush of air (a typical British tendency). The stroll from the car to the beach was a short climb up a soft sandhill, and a brief shuffle along a guided wooden board. Suddenly, the sandhill dropped and the sea burst into view.
It was like we had fallen into a painting; we were in paradise. I stood bewitched, speechless, trying to fathom how I’d later find the words to capture a view so rich in beauty, blessed with the power to captivate its onlookers. The sea was a glittering performance of light. The pure stretches of sand were empty. We had stumbled upon the world’s quietest and most spectacular beach. To this day, I still believe this was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited. Considering what was about to happen, this is quite a surprise.
Despite the chill on the air, we raced to the sea front in our swimwear ready to plunge ourselves into the water. The horizon was beckoning us. But we had forgotten about the storm. The furious storm that had battled its way along the East Coast the week before, brandishing weapons of wind and water, demolishing houses and sinking streets with heavy floods. Yes, we forgot about that little detail as we jumped blind into the mouth of a 6foot high wave. It didn’t happen at once. At first, we paddled in the shallows with Matty willing himself to swim further. But then our laughter was stifled by the crashing roar of waves, my view of him was shielded, and suddenly I was plunged beneath the surface. Panic set in. Flailing frantically, I kicked to the water’s surface but before I could even gasp for air, a second vicious wave pounded down on me with full force, throwing me like some helpless ragdoll in all directions. This was it, I thought. I’m going to perish right here, right now in the first national park I visit….my first Australian beach with Matt, and now my last… In all the few seconds of my self-pity, I did have time to comprehend how bloody ridiculous that death would have been. As I began to imagine all the things I hadn’t yet done, all the places I hadn’t yet seen, and the goodbyes I hadn’t yet said, I felt the desperate grasp of Matt’s hand pulling me out of the water. Shrieking like a banshee, I wailed about what could have been a very tragic, premature death, much to his amusement and futile words of comfort that I was only under the water for a few seconds and a mere few steps from the shore.
Despite my dramatic near death experience, it was a beautiful national park and worth a visit for those heading north of Sydney. That night, we camped at a little site and made a fire. Matt’s instinctive, scout leadership qualities shone through at this point, and in total tranquility, we sat before a crackling fire, listening to the buzz of Australian wildlife, gazing up at the moonlight and contemplating our next move to Coff’s Harbour.