CUWAM: The fourth Beach of Christmas: Little Austi and a child’s first swim

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The fourth beach of Christmas is a beach in my childhood home, Austinmer. Little Austi Beach, a unpatrolled strip of sand and surf nestled in between two headlands.

A beach which is perfect place for a summer dip, to float and frolic in the clear blue ocean. My Father refers to Little Austi beach as ‘ Tea Bag Beach’, for on hot summer days, as far as the eye can see are people, young and old, bobbing up and down in the water. I rather like this name and think that Dad should put this suggestion to local council.

Ah Little Austi / Tea Bag beach….you are a friend to all. Dogs roam off leash, children collect shells and swim in the rock pools, surfers catch waves that form out past the rock shelves, teenage girls soak up the sun, and in the good old days, when Headlands Hotel served ice-cold beer all summer long, locals and tourists alike sat on the hill, looking out at the sublime view that encompassed both Tea Bag and the Illawarra coastline….

Today my cousin from Victoria, his wife and baby treated us to a post-Christmas visit on their homeward journey. Tea Bag beach had been mentioned as the perfect place for their daughters first ever swim.

With most of the Illawarra beaches still closed due to dangerous surfing conditions, an alternate swimming hole was required. As luck would have it my family have been entrusted to look after a backyard swimming pool till January 2nd. And whilst it seems indulgent to bathe in a home pool with the ocean minutes away,with the beach off-limits today, it was perfect for our 8 month old visitors first ever swim.

My family felt very privileged to watch in wonder and amazement at the joy the water brought to our little guest…The backyard swimming pool was perfect, the water temperature was mild, the swimming conditions mostly calm ( except for the occasional water splash….mandatory pool behaviour!!)

And whilst it had been hoped that Little Austi/ Tea Bag Beach would provide the essential ingredients for an important milestone to be reached today, that of a child’s first swim, the beach was trumped by the humble backyard swimming pool.

Pool or beach, salt water or clorine….a swim is often just a swim, but it is the people who you share it with that add the magic and create lasting memories.

CUWAM- The Fifth beach of Christmas: Port Kembla Beach and seaside pool

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Todays beach venture taught be a valuable lesson….It is best to avoid making assumptions in life.

As a child, growing up in the Northern suburbs of the Illawarra, there was little need to venture past my local beach, Austinmer,  for a swim. Why get in the car and drive miles when you can walk to the ocean in a matter of minutes?

While that philosophy has been in operation almost every time I have returned home to the South Coast,  my 12 Beaches fo Christmas ode, has forced me to travel further afield.This Austinmer local has travelled to beaches South of Wollongong, to destinations better known for it steel works plant, soot and smog.

Christmas catch ups with my London friends Jo and Yo, it town for the silly season, meant that I did not venture South till almost 2pm. Abandoning plans to explore the seaside town of Kiama, I took a left hand turn on the freeway at the  Port Kembla exit and never looked back.

Not certain of the direction I was heading I entered what must have once been the bustling Port Kembla high street. It was all but a ghost town. Shop fronts were boarded up, tumble weeds blew down the streets, business for sale.  I counted 3 pubs on the main drag, on a street deserted of people. I took this as a sign that Port Kembla has once been a  thriving commercial area….The steel works providing hundreds of jobs, pouring money into the local economy, enabling the beer taps to flow…

Times have changed, and with it the town has suffered, it looks sad and tired….but the sea is its saving grace.

Port Kembla Beach and Pool is simply stunning….an oasis in a town that is in need of a bit of cheering up. The Olympic sized pool is newly renovated, and also contains two wading pools for little children. The well manicured lawns are tiered and provide great ledges from which sunbathers can take in views of both the pool and ocean.

I ate well priced fish and chips for the pool’s kiosk and then took a walk to the beach.

Getting back in my car, I continued on to another prime swimming and fishing spot in Port Kembla, Hill 60. The view from the Hill was divine, had the council had not chosen to instil a waste management site nearby, I would give the place a bigger write-up!!

I learnt a valuable lesson today, that making assumptions about places,  means that you miss out on the joy of discovering things for yourself, coming to your own opinion. Port Kembla is not only part of the steel city that is Wollongong, but a breathtakingly beautiful seaside town….I would encourage everyone with a bit of time to discover the suburbs charm for yourself.

CUWAM: The Sixth Beach of Christmas: Coledale Beach and Camp Ground

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Coledale Beach and Camping Reserve

King tides have closed the majority of beaches along the South Coast…For those who have packed up everything from the kitchen sink to the Christmas tree, and unpacked it at Coledale Beach and =Camp Reserve, things are looking pretty bleak.

There must be around 200 people in around 50 tents camping over the Christmas/ New Year period. A picturesque beach side camp ground, it is one of the few spots in the Illawarra that allows you to set up camp a stones throw from the ocean.

At this time of year it is a site to behold….Grumbling about the weather and lack of excitement at the Wollongong Boxing Day sales that I ventured to this morning, my father told me to go ‘cruising’??!! By that he meant, cruising for some beach front inspiration. I had asked my father for guidance as the lack of sunshine and heat was hindering my spirits and ability to tackle the task at hand: the half way mark in my beach odes.

‘Head up to Coledale’, suggested my Dad ‘ It will be packed’

And that is was….. On arrival I entered a temporary village, a make shift town of tents, caravans and campervans. Clothes lines were erected between pine trees, surf boards were being used as card tables, people were walking about, eating left over fruit cake from Christmas lunch,  merrily drinking beer whilst kids sat beach side eating soft serve ice-cream cones.

The place even seemed to have it own code of conduct. It soon became clear that you had to say hello to everyone you walked passed…a genuine hello, you had to say it like you meant it….I kind of liked that!

Despite the jovial mood of the camping reserve, the ocean was not in a good mood. Large waves broke on the shore line, the sea was grey and angry….Life savers sat on the sand watching the fury of the sea, their presence a gentle reminder that the water was a no go zone.

With the water the focal point of any beach outing there was an amazing amount of activity at Coledale this afternoon…but then I guess if you have set up camp and you are in it for the long haul ( ie NYE) you have to make the most of a beach side holiday…regardless of the lack of sun and angry surf.

So I witnessed other seaside pass times this afternoon: photography, sand castle making, ice cream eating, picnicking, gossiping, pondering, beer drinking and general all round relaxing.

And yes, despite my initial hesitation to abandon ship and stay indoors today, I am glad I ventured to Coledale Beach and Camping Reserve…a hive of activity on an otherwise average summer day.

CUWAM: The Seventh Beach of Christmas: McCauleys Beach

This post is dedicated to my beautiful Uncle who passed away yesterday. A  man who had life’s priorities in the right order: family and friends always come first. My Uncle was also a passionate writer, so the written word seems a fitting way to pay tribute to a life well lived.

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Christmas day, you arrived and brought summer with you!! That in itself if the best present one could ask for. A beach Christmas, thank you Santa!!

It is 5pm in the evening and I have had two oceans swims. Whilst I sit a recall my first seaside dip I am contemplating a third in a backyard swimming pool….

Over sparkling Shiraz, Christmas Ham and hot English mustard sandwiches, and the eve of St Nick’s arrival, my childhood friend Steph and I devised a plan to squeeze in an early morning swim the following morning. Steph’s schedule was packed, a brunch, a lunch and then a three course dinner!! Me on the other hand only had a lunch to contend with.

The lucky beach we picked for our Chrissie dip: McCauleys beach Thirroul. My love affair with Mc Cauleys beach has been ongoing since the early 1990’s, when Steph’s parents brought a two bedroom cottage one street away from the beach.

From that point on my summer swims were often at McCauleys, a unpatroled beach just south of the ever popular Thirroul Beach and pool. On hot summer days, Steph, her sister Alison and I would see dense crowds at Thirroul beach from the quiet and calm of McCauleys and feel ever so smug!

At the prearranged time of 8.30am Chirstmas morning, Steph, her Mum and Dad, pooches Carlos and Chelsea and I headed on foot in the direction of the water. On arriving at the beach, we quickly set up camp. Steph and her Dad headed to the water first, whilst Steph’s Mum and I did dog sitting duties. Ten minutes later it was Anna, Steph’s Mum and my turn for some McCauleys action. The water was warm, frothy waves broke over our heads, and we dived and ducked beneath them.

It was a glorious way to start Christmas Day 2011, for that matter, any day….Bathing in the ocean, natures own water park, offering cooling relief, restoring energy, providing clarity.

All too soon the Christmas schedule kicked in, the brunches, lunches and dinners…..But what would Christmas be without them!!

So three cheers for Christmas 2011 and the early morning swim at McCauleys…a swim that took place at a beach rich in family and friendship history. Thank goodness for local knowledge and thank goodness for life long friendships….the perfect ingedients for celebrating.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

CUWAM- The Ninth and Eighth beach of Christmas. The combo edition, Parsley Bay and Milk Beach

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On reflection, today could almost be seen as the first official day of summer in Sydney…for I believe it is the first day that the city has not experienced rain….Yippee!!

And with the sun making an appearance for more than 2 hours in a row, I marked the occasion by getting in my car and driving to one of Sydney’s most exclusive suburbs: Vaucluse.

Vaucluse…what can I say….You are simply stunning….you won my heart back in late 2007 when I first swam at the delightful Neilson Park, on a night when the summer heat enticed swimmers into the water late into the evening. And since that first swim at Neilson, I have returned, numerous times, for picnic with friends, early morning swims and even a Sydney Festival event, a Dawn Choir in the summer of 2008.

But so often I had heard Sydney siders talk off Vaucluse’s hidden seaside gems…of Parsley Bay
Hermitage and Milk Beach….but never on any of my day trips to the area had they revealed themselves to me.

Thank goodness for this summers 12 Beaches of Christmas campaign!! Ever determined, and armed with all the essential tools for this intrepid outing ie street directly, I took to the streets in search of
some Eastern Suburbs paradise.

I discovered Parsley Bay with relative ease…so much ease that it occurred to me I could have made this discovery many moons ago if I had not been so stubborn in insisting on car rides without street guide…But there are no regrets here…Parsley Bay was in all her glory, the sun shone, and a smattering of people were their enjoying both the parkland and ocean playground.

Inspired by the Parsley Bay discovery, after taking a few photos, I hoped back in my car….My plan was to tackle another long admired, ever elusive swimming spot…the fabled Milk Beach.

Milk Beach features on the NSW Tourism website as one of Sydney’s Secret Beaches…And this is no lie, Milk Beach is the holy grail of seaside discoveries in the East!!

A work colleague had told a tale of a magical Sydney beach, a place that allowed you a ocean dip whilst basking in stunning views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and City Skyline…that place was Milk Beach.

And to my delight, and with heaped praise for the street directory, Milk Beach revealed itself to me….…On a stunning Sydney afternoon, I had my first harbour swim of the season…..I had to share the beach with one other couple, and a bride and groom, having an afternoon wedding photo shoot on the sand….A priceless way to spend the first day of Sydney sun.

I think I will stop here…The photos speak for themselves…and reinforce my belief that for a perfect summers day in Sydney, all one needs is a little bit of luck ( or a street directory!!) , a swimming costume, sun cream and hat…the city takes care of the rest…Simply stunning secret beaches and parklands that are there for all the enjoy.

CUWAM: The tenth beach of Christmas: Coal Cliff Rock Pool

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Again I have to confess that whilst we are well and truly into the summer season, with St Nick arriving in 5 sleeps…. whilst this is the third beach in the Chrissie cronicle…I have yet to take a dip in the water….but…it…will…happen..

But I fear my beach ode’s may suffer as a result of remaining dry and my writing may fail to capture the true joy that a swim in the sea evokes…But the end is in sight!!

Today I am submitting this post in my home town of Austinmer, at the parental home. I have driven down South today to catch up this evening with some wonderful girlfriends for a meal and a few drinks. I am staying the night, and in my overnight bag, I went all out…for a I packed my swimmers, sun cream and beach towel…for tomorrow, I believe, might be the day of days to finally get amongst some seaside action!

But back to today, before leaving Sydney, I committed to the idea of taking the Coast Road home, for one simple reason, it would take me to the sea. So leaving the Princess Highway, I took the Helensburgh turnoff, and embarked upon a piece of road that would take me from mountain to sea.

My destination of choice was Coal Cliff rock pool and beach. I glanced out at Stanwell Park Beach…and tough tempted by it the surf and sand, I had a predetermined date with a coastal hidden treasure.

As a young girl I have vague memories of swimming at the Coal Cliff rock  pool…of getting c into my swimmers in the change rooms, and being surrounded by numerous old ladies…all doing the same thing, their large naked bodies shaking as they heaved and hoisted themselves into their swimming trunks….As I took the path down to the rock pool today, this memory came flooding back…..But to be  completing honest, it was probably only one old naked lady that day in the change shed. but when you are young, and possess a vivid imagination…anything is possible!!

Coal Cliff rock pool, a hidden gem, one of many along the northern parts of the Illawarra / South Coast Region..To bask in its beauty you need to leave the main road, taking a sharp left, to enter into a sleepy residential street full of big homes, which prevent the beach seeker from seeing the pool and sea…But it is there, it is well signed, and once you visit this place once…like an old friend…you will be back to see her!

It must have been 20 years since I have visited Coal Cliff rock pool…but in an instant I was taken back to my childhood, of fun times in the sun ( with old naked women!!) Whilst today’s visit was short and I was there to merely reacquaint myself with the place…it definelty has a hold on me… I ache to go back…Lucky I packed my swimmers in my over night bag…..

CUWAM- The eleventh beach of Christmas: The Backyard Swimming Pool

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I admit the that the backyard swimming pool is NOT a beach, but on hot summer days in the city of Sydney…it is just as good…if not better!!

With the weather still under par, I visited a good friend’s home yesterday, and asked if I could take photos of the families stunning backyard…An oasis in Sydney’s inner west. a backyard I have fond memories of….having swum in the pool on numerous occasions, hot summer nights, when inner city living made it almost impossible to keep cool….It was then that this humble backyard pool became mankind’s best friend.

Having spent a privileged childhood by the sea, it was not till I moved out of home, leaving the South Coast behind for the big smoke of Sydney city, that I realised just how lucky I had been. Having grown up by the water, it could not be more true, that yes, I took the ocean for granted…It was just there and as a child if I felt like a swim, all I had to do was walk down the road, in a matter of minutes I could be blissfully floating in the big blue bath tub.

But as a young adult, flat sharing in Sydney’s inner west in the peak of summer…it dawned on me as the ceiling fan whirled hot air around my room, sweat dripping down my brow…that I had indeed been a lucky, lucky girl….That same summer, as my Mint Green Honda civic, sans air conditioning, attempted with the million other commuters to get Sydney’s eastern suburbs beaches, it again rang true….Oh how lucky my childhood had been….That beach mission was aborted on Oxford street…The heat was too intense…I had already been in the car for one hour, and was still a  good distance away….Lesson learnt….Sydney on a hot day equals snail pace traffic…all heading in one direction…the water….

City living has thus made me appreciate the backyard swimming pool….for its convenience, reliable good times and reassuring cooling effort when life in the concrete jungle gets you down….But again, like the ocean, is often overlooked….taken for granted….Bemoaned when the weekly clean creeps around and chlorine test have to be done…

But the backyard pool is responsible for much joy, that after work dip after a day in the office, the luxury of multiple swims per day….it is, after all, always there for you in times of need….pool parties, family get together’s, capable of bring together the young and young at heart….

So if you are lucky enough to have a backyard pool, your own private summer time oasis….Three cheers for you!!….Why? Because you own a little slice of beach inspired heaven.

CUWAM- The Twelfth Beach of Christmas:Gordon’s Bay

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With the weather still failing to ignite a summer like atmosphere, composing an ode to 12 beaches and/ or seaside living is proving rather challenging.

Yesterday, with the sun making a brief appearance around midday, I hopped in my car and drove to a wonderful watering hole, known as by all as Gordon’s Bay, on Sydney’s  Eastern Coastline.

Nestled in between Clovelly and Coogee Beaches, is this small alcove, a place renowned for its treasures,  both above and below the water. Gordon’s Bay is part of the famous seaside beach walk that takes a person from Coogee  to Bondi Beach….The walking track taking you past Gordon’s Bay, allowing you to view her beauty without even getting your feet wet…the stunning rocky cliffs, the moored boats, the shimmering  ocean, that sparkles in various shades of blue, turquoise and aqua throughout the day.

It was a strategic decision of mine to kick-start the 12 beaches of Christmas with Gordon’s Bay…I have lived the past 2 years in a very privileged part of Sydney city…Never in a million years will I be able to afford to buy a place in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney…and I suspect as the years roll by I will also be unable to afford rent!!

But upon realising how lucky I was to live in this vibrant city, and in a suburb 5 minutes from the ocean, I attempted to embrace the city/ seaside lifestyle with gusto. I talked to locals, who recommended I invest in a snorkel set ‘ for Gordon’s Bay’ as ‘ viewing the underwater world is a must’.

The snorkel set was delivered by St Nick for Christmas 2009-2010 and…had…never…been….used…..

The reason it has never been used…..it seems a lame and very poor excuse…but to put it simply….life got in the way…The clutter of the everyday, it became to easy to put off a dip in the bay, snorkel set in tow, for the weather was poor, the temperature of the sea to cold, the ‘to do’ list too long…Hell, even the 12 beaches of Christmas campaign was not enough ammunition to get me in the water yesterday.

But I love the sea, I can honestly say that I have never felt quiet at home in the city of Sydney, before moving closer to the water….For me, happiness is when I am close to the ocean…and it gave me joy to go down to Gordon’s Bay yesterday, camera in hand and start the day with a bit of seaside beauty.

Kick starting the 12 Beaches of Christmas with Gordon’s Bay is my way of committing to getting amongst the underwater world in 2012.…With 11 beaches to go in could be before the year it out…Watch this space…Alternatively, join me at Gordon’s for what is guaranteed to be a momentous occasion!!

Friendship Fire Starter: Gift Giving

Tis the season of gift giving, and there is nothing nicer giving or receiving a gift when time, effort, thought and love has gone into the process. Yes, this weeks friendship fire starter is based around the concept of the gift.

I love giving gifts, pondering over the purchase, often wishing that the gift would stay with me on a permanent basis…choosing the wrapping paper, the ribbon and then there is the home-made gift tag or card and  the real fun starts!! Out comes the coloured paper, the sticker collection. the pencils, the glitter, the glue, the creative process in full swing!!….The home made card completing the parcel, a well dressed package, a unique parcel tailor-made for that special someone.

Over the years I have both received many wonderful gifts, the gift great family and friends, wonderful pets, holidays near and far, toys, books, hot meals…I could go on and on. But to narrow it down I will reflect on the last 5 years…and two gifts stand out…let me tell you about them….

The Ring: On my ring finger, left hand I wear the most divine ring. It was given to me by my wonderful friend Jess, a person I could not imagine going through life without….To put it simply, Jess is the best ( She will love me saying this!!)

The Pink Ring…plus other bling on Jess’ finger!!

Through a sea of tragedy, much despair and sadness, the gift of the ring was given to me as a thank you gift, the ring was Jess’ was of saying thank you for being her friend through tough times…But if I was honest with her, and I always am, the gift was not necessary…I would have been there regardless….

But I LOVE the ring, I get complimented on it at least once a week, the ring makes me HAPPY, I just have to look at it and it makes me feel stronger, reassures me of the good people in my life, reminds me of Jess…It is a beautiful piece of jewellery and I feel so proud to own it.

A friend admiring the ring

The other gift I have received over the last 5 years, was given to me on my recent holiday to NYC….a handmade card that accompanied a small gift given to me on my 33rd birthday. The gift was from my friend Magda, an aspiring film maker and self-proclaimed women of the world.

The card was written as Magda took to subway from Brooklyn to Union Square, NYC,  where we met for my birthday dinner. Yes, there was the usual ‘ Happy Birthday’ message, but other words jumped right off the page…Magda had captured a the essence of who I wanted to me, who I need to be in the written word:

‘Be open to love and remember that were ever you go there will always be someone waiting for you’

As a person far from home on my birthday, and as a person to who loves travelling abroad, this special message was tailor-made for just for me..I felt extremely lucky….I remember asking my friend if I could use part of the message in my blog, the reply was ‘ Sure go ahead..I can’t even remember what I wrote!!

So heres to gift giving and the joy it brings to the person giving the gift, and the person receiving.

Gifts don’t have to cost a lot of money, they don’t have to cost a sent…but a well thought out gift can help cement all that is wonderful about a friendship.

Tis the season to give gifts, with a little thought and a lot of love, may you be on both the sending and receiving end of many joyous parcels!!

CUWAM: The 12 Beaches of Christmas

St Kilda Beach, Melbourne

I will be taking a break from Write on Wednesday ( which is also taking a summer break) and replace it with my own personal take in the silly season that is Christmas and New Year in Australia.

I will venture to 12 beaches over the holiday period…With yesterday marking the official 12 day countdown till  St Nick’s arrival into town, one might expect a post a day approach to this Christmas tale….But a more laid back style is being adopted ( it is the Australian way!!)

The 12 beaches of Christmas / New Year yarn will be told whilst I am on annual leave from work, from the 16th December till the 3rd of January, 2012.

Come on the journey with me,  as I spend as much time as possible beach side / pool side / harbour side.

Beach side action will set in NSW,  Australia…and whilst the picture inserted into this post is in fact from Victoria, I just could not help myself….I love this image.

For inspiration for you own Summer Beach guide, check out the Tourism NSW website for beach action…and while my focus will be on Sydney, NSW….you will find great information on beach action across the entire state.

Sydney Beach Lifestyle

And my personal favourite, Secret Beaches Sydney, not so secret if they are on a national website!! But secret just the same….

Three cheers for summer hip, hip, hooray!! Let the good times, the summer times begin..

P.S For readers who venture to this post via the Ink Paper Pen blog site, I won’t link in all 12 beach posts on the site..that would be like spam!!…But if you feel like reading up on the unfolding tales of the sea, you will find the  12 posts under the CUWAM category ‘ Sydney: Home Sweet Home’ and or ‘Coastal Living

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