My very first coup d’œil of the Gold Coast was not of the coast, but of green, undulating hills. Squinting just a little, I could imagine myself having landed on an Amazonian airfield. The humidity wafted into my cotton shirt and dampened it almost instantly. It was a precious feeling to be someplace warm again, although I knew my appreciation for wet air would quickly dissipate, unlike the sweat that was slowly forming under my arms.
I didn’t waste any time hailing a cab: my first scuba diving lesson was beginning imminently. We rolled out of the airport and zoomed towards Tweed Heads, and before I knew it, I was strapped to a steel cylinder with seven lead blocks weighing me down, suspended above the bottom of a swimming pool. At the end of our training, we peeled out of our wetsuits, excited, bladders bursting, and Devon—a curly-haired twenty-something freelance photographer from the bush—offered to drive me to my hostel in Coolangatta. His laid-back attitude took me by surprise; after all, I would have never even entertained the idea of asking someone for a carpool favor in Switzerland. In the land of chocolate and watches, we all managed fine on our own and I had grown accustomed to it, for better or for worse.
On the short drive across the border to Queensland, we shot the breeze freely. I spoke about my plans in Australia, and he about many more things: his hometown of thirty-odd people, why he moved to Surfer’s Paradise, getting up before sunrise to capture the morning light, and a wildlife sanctuary in a suburb close by called Currumbin. We bypassed all the formalities people go through when meeting each other for the first, second, or tenth time. I wished the ride had lasted longer.
We took a detour and steered to an outcrop at the top of a small hill. It must have been barely seven, but the night had already crept into every corner and chink of Coolangatta. Treading barefoot over the berm, the moon came into view above an open ocean like a swatch of pure white paint dripping over an infinite inkwell. Directly in front of us, waves thrashed in thick, silvery ropes. Devon explained the significance of where we were: surfers from around the world came here to ride the swell and test their skills at Snapper Rocks. He pointed a finger across the dark horizon. In the far distance, I could barely make out the shape of Surfer’s Paradise. It looked like an apparition—a ghostly Atlantis rising out from the water ahead of a coming storm. My toes curled in the wet grass. It was starting to rain.
Fortunately, on Queensland’s Gold Coast, rainstorms pass as quickly as they come. The torrential downpours were padded by moments of sun, and the faraway stalagmites of Surfer’s appeared, disappeared, and reappeared within the span of minutes. Along the five-mile stretch of uninterrupted shoreline from Coolangatta to Currumbin, the sea pounded relentlessly against the sand. Glasslike linings glistened as they threaded through the barrels of the breaking waves.
Surfers with radiant, bronze bodies and tousled hair ruled over this edge of the continent. With their boards in tow and wetsuits drenching in adrenaline, they put the ‘cool’ in Coolangatta. I felt out of place taking my long romantic walk alone. I thought of you on the other side of the world…
The rain returned just as I reached Currumbin. I took Devon’s advice to visit the wildlife sanctuary, where many of the Gold Coast’s native fauna nestle a stone’s throw from the beach. Koalas were cradling drowsily on their favorite gum trees while nearby, frisky red roos hopped from hand to hand scouting for their next snack. Up above, hundreds of rainbow lorikeets flashed, flittered, and flaunted their vibrant plumes. I suppose it was what Eden must have looked like in the minds of many.
The following days passed by as quickly as a riptide. Under the choppy waves of the Tweed River, I was immersed in a world of weightlessness and wonder. We drifted down the roily riverbed alongside lionfish, lobsters, and the occasional brooding stingray. With my diving certificate complete, the shimmering skyscrapers of Australia’s entertainment capital loomed ever closer.
I felt at ease in Surfer’s Paradise. It appealed to the ordinary in me—a me who never could connect with coolness, who wanted to simply observe the world turning without being exposed to it. The soaring high-rises took me under their shadows: I was unseen, anonymous, a part of the landscape. Hordes of tourists frolicked in the ocean and I was happy to be one of them. Hordes of others took photos and I joined them too. A few combed the beach for clams, plucking one out ever so often from the sand. I imagined only the locals knew about this secret. I pictured them hauling their filled buckets home and the delicious plates of stir-fried clams that awaited.
Along the esplanade, Brazilian men teased spectators with their tribal tattoos and treasure trails as they lunged and flexed about. I felt no shame in stopping to stare a while. Whichever way my whimsies steered—be it watching futevôlei to indoor skydiving to a Thai massage—I could pursue them freely. From atop the SkyPoint Observation Deck, I saw for the very first time the whole of the Gold Coast. It was an indulgent sight, a glorious Venetian sprawl of canalside villas and private jetties. I traced the gleaming towers to where they relinquished to the wilderness of the Australian hinterland and where the dynamic pulse of the city sunk back into green, undulating hills. Nothing lacked in Paradise; not from where I stood.