Freshly returned from a camping holiday and staring down the barrel of months of separation, I feel the need to express my love of this very special place.
“Rainbow” – or more accurately Cooloolah National Park, which encompasses the area north of Noosa Heads – Double Island Point (the Great Sandy Highway), Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point – is quite simply my spiritual home.
I could not say why there, rather than the myriad other beautiful places in Queensland (or somewhere I’ve actually lived) but for me, Rainbow is irrevocably and undeniably “home”.
As a child, we moved around a fair bit but we spent many weekends with our family at Caloundra and its beaches. As much as I love Caloundra, it doesn’t have this hold over me. We lived briefly in the jaw-droppingly beautiful hinterland town of Witta (near Maleny) and the feeling I get when I visit that region is the closest comparison to Rainbow – though it’s a gentle “yin” tug at the heart, rather than the “yang” smash of Rainbow.
On our most recent trip, after all the dramas of finding camp and setting up, we walked out onto the golden white sand, gazed at the seemingly endless waves and the corner of Fraser Island, and I started crying. All the stress, worries and concerns of everyday life were somehow swept away – burst by the overwhelming beauty in front of me, and of the real and tangible sense of “coming home”.
So, to Rainbow, I say:
I love you. I cannot imagine my life without you. Knowing that you are there, waiting for me to visit once or twice a year, is a lifeline of hope and reassurance.
I remember when we first met – S and I had only just gotten together and drove up to the ferry in the middle of the night. My girlfriend L was with us, in the Suzuki Sierra, and we were high. I thought it was a fun adventure but didn’t realise what would happen once the sun came up, the midgies and mozzies settled down, and the ferry started up again. My now-husband had told me nothing about where we were going, quietly confident that I would fall in love.
Once we were ferried across, there was a drive along bush tracks and then we reached a point when he turned to us, grinned, and said “hold on”. An almighty smash later, we seemed to have levitated and our beers had escaped from hand to floor (yes, high and drinking – at least the driver wasn’t!). We’d just gone over the infamous crevice on the short track to you.
After that… well, I don’t have words to explain it. My girlfriend and I were stunned into gaping silence. For kilometre after kilometre, the beach stretched on, waves crashing to our right (and a pinky, new sky stretching out to the infinity of the watery horizon) and dunes undulating to our left.
I felt something grab hold of my heart, and you’ve never let me go. L and I – we normally chatter incessantly – were in a speechless trance for what seemed like hours. S just basked in the beauty and his own sense of pride for introducing us. I remember the rough inland track – Freshwater – clattering us to our senses before he took us in to Rainbow town, and then to Rainbow Beach.
That was very early 2005 and I was a fresh-faced 20 year old. S and I came back, just the two of us, to camp at Double Island Point twice before the end of 2006 and they are some of my happiest memories.
We were married in September 2006 and for us there was only one option for our honeymoon – we came to you. For seven glorious days, we stayed in the penthouse suite of one of the (then) few fancy hotels, and spent our days next to the Sierra at Rainbow beach. One morning we even got to ride horses along the beach in that stretch between Rainbow and Inskip. It’s the only time we haven’t camped directly on your shores but I don’t think we cheated on you too much – we could see you from every angle of our room!
Since then, life has changed a lot – I’m now 29, have had a change in career, and we still don’t have those kids we so dearly want. I’m heavier than I was, back when I’d confidently run about and pose for photos in a bikini. The drugs were phased out years ago but alcohol – beer especially – continues to go hand in hand with our visits. I now take photos (so many photos!) as I try and capture some of your magic. My marriage is now care-worn, I am weighed down with stress, the mortgage is years old and the outside world has become harder. All that falls away though with the first glimpse of your beaches and waves, and everything somehow becomes ok again.
We come back nearly every year, sometimes twice, and each time is a treasure. I had the honour of introducing my younger brother to you (he is similarly enraptured) and last year joined my uncle and his young kids at Inskip for three days – how lucky they are to have you as part of their childhood! My marriage and my heart felt the strain of separation on the years we didn’t come stay. This year we were so heartbroken that our Australia Day weekend trip was cancelled after severe storms closed your beaches that we left our camping gear in the front room until December, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
We’ve camped in a tiny two person tent, in a massively oversized family tent, in a borrowed camper trailer and in our best set up of “just right” tent and kitchen gazebo. We’ve camped along Double Island, once at the main campground at Inskip so the kids were safer, and once in the in between of M.V. Matone at Inskip. No matter where we camp, or how, each time it’s a direct route with nature and a healed soul.
I remember my Mum asking, a few years ago, what my preferences were for my final resting place. Without a moment’s hesitation I replied “cremated, with my ashes scattered at Rainbow”. Later that week I found out that S had been asked the same thing by his parents (what are the odds?) and he had replied in the exact same way, despite the fact we had never discussed it.
You have taught me many things – the endless size and power of the ocean, the indomitable power of nature (you have survived and adapted after some fierce storms!), the insignificance of one human life and its worries, and that relentless change is part of the natural world as well as the human one.
We’ve seen the redevelopment of the tiny town (like your rough old pub being replaced by an enormous, sterile version… nice enough I guess, but very out of place) and the proliferation of smaller hotels. As much as this grates, I’m learning to accept it.
The Carlo Sand Blow, one of your famous attractions (apparently named by Captain Cook after a deckhand – who knew?), is an enormous sandy monument to change. I have a few memories of trekking through the bush and then out onto the blisteringly hot sand, but my favourite was the long, lazy afternoon spent with S and my brother. We found a dead tree to perch on, got our feet off the fiery sand, and watched people parachute off the Blow and down onto the beach. The surreal “moonscape” of 22 hectares of sand atop a giant dune was the most perfect setting for a most perfect day. I was using a dodgy disposable camera and the resulting photos are sun-bleached and slightly blurry… instantly nostalgic and just right.
However, I digress – thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of years of strong winds have wreaked change, clearing vegetation and depositing sand, higher and higher, to form dunes on top of dunes and creating what we see today. Your famous Rainbow sands are formed by the same process of constant change, the winds shifting surface sand to reveal ancient sands that have been stained by minerals or clay. To love you is to appreciate and embrace change.
On the last day of our last trip, I went for a very long walk along the water, from Inskip to Rainbow. A few hundred metres from our camp I found the “gutter” that my husband had fished from – in front of our camp – on the first day. I watched the tide pulling at the sand and new shapes and flows emerging. I watched jellyfish being washed to shore, and on my way back realised some had been carried back out again. I learned that the much wider expanse of sand was due to an enormous storm that hit you a month ago, forcing the rangers to create new campsites 50m back. So, in your gentle and persistent way, you reminded me that change is an inevitable part of life.
Staying with you requires a lot of effort, a few discomforts, and an element of risk. For me, the planning, travel time and expense are a small price to pay. Setting up and packing up camp isn’t fun but it’s necessary. Dealing with the heat, midgies, mozzies, blow flies and sand – in everything – is part and parcel of spending time with you. Going for a swim in your waters may be a risk (hello sharks and bluebottle jellyfish) but sometimes it’s one I can’t resist – the experience is too blissful. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ve taught me the power of perspective. I happily embrace these difficulties because it means spending time with you.
I think I needed this trip to help me gather the strength to face some big decisions. In order to survive, I too need to change and so does my marriage. I also need to decide what is worth fighting for. Thank you – for being you, for teaching me so much, and for existing in my heart and mind as a place of beauty, escape and nature.
I’ll see you soon