Classic hits

Have you ever noticed how much airtime commercial radio stations use boasting about all of the epic hits they play? To the extent that jingles boasting about the epic hits they play outweigh the actual amount of epic hits they play. Many of which are not epic, incidentally. Maroon 5 here’s looking at you. 

It was on the road between Cooma and Nimmitabel that such jingles disappeared into an annoying crackle. Luckily, I was still able to pick up the ABC, midway between the first innings of Tasmania v South Australia. The soporific summer tones of balls making their way through to the keeper settled me into a groove, on an undulating, barren expanse of the Monaro. Alas, even that became interrupted, crossing to the FRADULENT VICTORY SPEECH OF SLEEPY JOE AND <INSERT RACIST MYSOGINIST DOGWHISTLE> KAMALA. SAD.

Afterwards, a dose of Springsteen would have been perfect. Or the soon-to-be-famous You’re a Big Fat Lonely Loser by Echo Chamber and the Orangemen. But by time I reached Pipers Lookout any pretence at radio signal had vanished altogether. Instead, play had been pressed on track one on my own classic hits of the Far South Coast.

Because it’s such an easy stop there’s no reason not to stop, even if you have stopped here many times before. It’s just like one of those pull-outs along an American Highway, offering dazzling vistas without requiring any physical exertion. Upon the edge of the Great Divide, the landscape plunges down Brown Mountain through lush rainforest gullies into the Bega Valley. Beyond this rumpled green tablecloth, a sliver of sea.

The sea, I had not seen thee since mid-June. In that period, waves and whales have come and gone. But with our flipped around climate, the countryside has been as soothing as water lapping at a half moon bay. At the head of the Bega Valley, Bemboka again defying the reality of hell and fury that was ten months before. Only close attention picks up the charred matchsticks of trees atop the rugged wilderness to the north.  

Tathra marks the point at which the country meets the ocean and – at historic Tathra Wharf – another classic hit. Only this was one of those hits that you hear again many years later and feel slightly disappointed. It’s like a café in the perfect location that serves good coffee but decides to warm up a muffin and turn the delicious dollop of icing into a slimy gravy. Why do places do this without consent? The same with brownies. Frankly, warm brownies are glorified sponge cakes, a cold, dense, gooey pocket of rich chocolate ruined.

Of course I still ate warm muffin gloop and was starting to think I should work some of it off nearby. Somewhere new, somewhere different. For classics can also emerge in an instant. At Wajurda Point a viewing platform looked out over Nelson Beach, golden light emanating from the bush-clad hills and filtering through the ocean spray. On the beach, a lone silhouette provoked envy. Take me there.

Thirty minutes later I was accompanied by a choir of rainbow lorikeets, whip birds, and bellbirds as I made my way through a beautiful pocket of forest to the beach. I was now that lone silhouette heading north to an isthmus of sand melting into Nelson Creek. The topography of the creek, completing an entire 180 degree loop and widening into a lagoon is striking in its similarity to that of Merimbula. Only without the houses and cars and oyster beds and franked up boomers. 

As good as anywhere to whip out my airline blanket circa 2010 for a brief rest. Pause.

As tempting as it was, I couldn’t linger here forever. Time moves on and to tell the truth it was starting to feel a wee bit nippy in the sea breeze. Barely twenty degrees. I rounded the bend into the lagoon for more sheer serenity, interrupted by and interrupting a fretful mother and its baby. I read that the pied oystercatcher was listed as endangered in New South Wales and I felt a little bad inadvertently getting between the two. Not that the youngster seemed to care, such is the innocence of youth.

It is quite the juxtaposition to go from here to KFC Bega. Like Korn following Bach. Where the incompetence of youth rises to the fore like mashed potato in a plastic cup of gravy. It wasn’t all their fault; it seems half the population of Bega picks up Sunday dinner here. To the extent that COVID-capacity limits become dubious.

Quite astonishingly I was stopping in Bega for the night, hence such fine dining. Not only was this the first time I had stayed in Bega, it was also the first time I had stayed anywhere other than home since the very start of March. Six wicked wings and a takeaway salad from Woolworths in my motel room seemed an appropriate way to mark the occasion.

Bega is the kind of place you drive past or through on the way to Tathra or Merimbula or Eden or – even – the amazing COVID-free state of Victoria. Known for a mass-produced cheese, it’s not the most fashionable or affluent-looking town. But given I’ve been enamoured by understated country towns of late, it will do me just fine.

The next morning I decided I should give Bega a fair shake of the sauce bottle and wandered down towards the river. What I came across were weatherboard homes and verandas possessing a touch of ramshackle elegance. The town quickly gave way to generous green pasture, married with the chirpy sounds of spring. In a small portion of time I was in the country and not just any country. A country pretending at being Devon. It’ll be the closest I get this year.    

I would stay in Bega again but – crucially in the ‘I could live here’ assessment – I cannot yet testify to its quality of coffee. Keen to get back on the greatest hits tour, I determined my morning coffee should be at Bar Beach, Merimbula. A spot probably eclipsing that at Tathra Wharf and without the indignity of a melted muffin.

It was Monday – my day off – and surprising how many other people appeared to have time on their hands. Not just the usual array of wealthy retirees but paddle-boarding mums and surfing bums, living their best #vanlife. I fancy the odd person, like myself, was a wily Canberran lingering into a long weekend. Victorians seemingly absent.

Next on the tour was Pambula Beach or, to be precise, the Pambula River. Probably the standout track, the one that you revisit time and time again. When the sun is out here the clarity of colours defies belief, dazzling through the shadow of trees as you emerge from your car. The white sands leading you further into the heart of the river, ever-changing and reforming into crystal pools and sapphire swirls. One thing lacking – this time at least – was the backing track of bellbirds, quietened by the fresh wind funnelling through the valley.

The triumvirate of this hit parade is Eden and – specifically – fish and chips (or fish cocktails and potato scallops) down by the wharf. The crunchiest, most golden potato cakes this side of the border. My last memory of them was just before the end of 2019, a day or two before Mallacoota happened and when, a few days subsequently, this wharf became a shelter of last resort. Thankfully, the core of Eden remained intact and I was keen to do my usual diligent duty of supporting the local economy by eating its food.  

Much like The Rolling Stones, Eden Wharf had seen better days. Horror hit me when I discovered a ‘closed for good’ sign in my favourite scallop shop. Not only this, but every other outlet on the wharf looked abandoned. As if a pandemic had rolled in and wait… I wondered if business had been decimated by the double whammy of bushfires and COVID COVID COVID. Only later did I learn that the wharf building had been closed down because it was deemed unsafe.

Eden could do without 2020 I reckon. Paradise Lost. My only hope is that talk of food trucks becomes reality so that the town can benefit from Victoria reopening and a steady stream of summer visitors. For me, I would have to seek solace in potato scallops elsewhere.

It was back up the road in Pambula that I discovered Wheelers, famed for its oysters, also had a fish and chip takeaway. The fish was great (if a little on the small side) and the chips – strictly fries – were also surprisingly good. Only the two potato scallops, pale and insipid, left me deflated.

The good news was that I could take the takeaway back to the Pambula River, on a perfect stone seat sheltered from the wind. In cream tea terms, this was like Fingle Bridge – perfect setting, decent food. Is it a classic worthy of repeat? Well, only time will tell. For now, I have to press rewind, back over that mountain, once again to the overwhelming familiarity of home, radio signals and all.

Australia Driving Food & Drink Green Bogey Walking

Fantasea

In those deepest darkest bleakest dreary days of a northern November it was difficult not to yearn for the Pacific. Soft tidal sands under an off white sky at Bigbury could only do so much. A bracing breeze may have kept rain at bay at least for a few hours, but there was little warmth in that air; little solace in a faded, washed out scene in which even the sheep seemed sullen. Beautiful melancholy yes – but melancholy all the same – and I could have done with just a day on a different south coast to lift this permeating shroud.

Apart from a touchdown over Botany Bay the ocean had eluded me in my inexplicable hunger to return to landlocked Canberra. But with the weather settling into perfection and opportunity to keep work tasks ticking over remotely, I finally saw and seized an opportunity for a few away days, back beside the saturated sapphire hues of the Pacific. I don’t think I could have dreamt of such perfect days, even when being buffeted by a south-westerly on Burgh Island a few months back.

mer01With time to spare I was happy to head that little bit farther, down to the far south coast of New South Wales. Perks of this journey include – to a limited degree – the striking, golden plains of the Monaro, baked hard and golden by summer sun; the midway bakery opportunity in inimitable Nimmitabel; the rainforest rim of Brown Mountain; and the panoramic view over the rolling cow-dotted Bega Valley, into which the road drastically plunges.

Generous January rain in the valley could, just occasionally, trick the senses into believing they were cruising through South Devon hills to Bigbury. But any doubt is eliminated when the Pacific finally comes into view at Tathra. This could only be Australia, and from parking my car underneath a clutch of ti trees to being almost blinded by the golden white sand, to dipping my toes in that ambient ocean, I had a euphoric sense of finally being back.

mer03My base for three nights was Merimbula, handy in terms of size and facilities (i.e. food, coffee, picnic tables on which to work) and generous in its setting upon the shallow inlet and oceanfront. There is even an airport here with connections to Sydney, which does genuinely make you wonder about its feasibility as a site for sea change. A plane buzzed overhead the next morning, as I ventured out for an early walk through bushland along the inlet to Bar Beach. I could get used to these early morning walks, especially when a small but perfectly formed kiosk awaits besides the modest cove to offer up waterfront coffee.

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mer04The water here is quite ludicrously beautifully opaque, which probably helps for spotting sharks and giant stingrays. The only hazard this morning was mostly on the eyes, with a generous gaggle of cashed up baby boomers making the most of retirement by lumbering about in various states of undress. Understandably glowing and jovial – why wouldn’t you be facing yet another day in paradise – it may yet be too early for me to contemplate semi-retirement at the coast.

mer07What followed over the next couple of days was a pleasing routine of waterside walking, working and wallowing in sand and sea. I explored every possible boardwalk in Merimbula and visited the ice cream parlour at least twice. Late afternoons in the mid to high twenties were perfect for attempts at beachside siestas, but the call of the outdoors and nagging feeling that I probably should be doing something more productive with this opportunity made me restless. I would wander some more or open my laptop for five minutes and stare at the screen as Windows decided to install countless updates yet again, before concluding that it was better to just stand in the sea and spy distant dolphins doing all the work.

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Beyond Merimbula I made my ‘usual’ excursion to the Pambula River. Continuing a good grasp of tidal knowledge which I rediscovered in Devon, I arrived to a low tide, which opened up a far longer stretch of white sand and crystal water in which to wade. The backdrop of bushland and bellbirds in such a paradise might have encouraged a siesta, but here I failed too. Perhaps that semi-retirement by the coast really is looking still quite a long way off.

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mer09In Eden, I love the shabby end-of-the-world outpost feeling. It’s a long way from Sydney and a long way from Melbourne, which means it generally only picks up on road trippers passing through and lost Canberrans seeking fish and chips. I have heard – along with countless other places – that it could have been the national capital instead of Canberra. And perched upon an outcrop overlooking beautiful Twofold Bay and the rising hinterland of the coastal ranges, one can only wonder what might have been.

mer10Alas, the sheep paddock that eventually became the capital awaited the next morning. The good news was that I had – or will have – a home to go back there to, and some paperwork to sort out. I wasn’t going to rush – too much – and so took a final walk out to Bar Beach and a coffee to get me over the hills and far away. The boomers were of course there, semi-naked and just slightly self-satisfied, and I could see that I really wasn’t ready to join them for a while yet. But I would definitely be open to further remote working out-of-high-season breaks, just to soak up their paradise, their fantasy for a few more days close to the Pacific.

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking