It’s often hard to put into words why you love a particular place. It might be a specific sight or smell or meal you had. It might be that you had an especially good time there, because you were with people you love and something hilarious happened. You might not even know why you love a particular spot the way you do; you went there, maybe once, maybe many times, and something about that place wormed its way into your heart and you always look back on those memories with joy, for reasons you can’t articulate.
Everyone has places like this. Budapest, where you once spent a perfect few days with your best friend. The beach near your uncle’s house. The Cambridge-blue boathouse that defined so many hours of your university experience.
However, so much of what keeps these places special is not what you can find there, but what you feel when you’re there. This is what makes it hard showing someone a place that you hold dear and hoping, wishing that they’ll love it just as much as you do.
Sometimes you’re left disappointed. “The dumplings are only okay,” they shrug, or “I feel like the buildings are kind of dirty,” or “meh, I’ve seen better.”
It can feel even more important when you show someone a place that is an indelible part of your history. It’s not just that city where you shared a great weekend with friends, but a major part of your childhood or adolescence, the kind of the place that might get a mention in your memoir.
It can feel even more important, I imagine, showing one of these life-defining places to your child, because you’re not merely saying, “look, isn’t it beautiful?”
You’re saying, “this is what made me, me. And therefore made you, you, in some small way. This is what I was doing before you were around.”
As I said, sometimes you’re left disappointed. And sometimes, everything comes together perfectly, and you get to watch the eyes of someone you love light up as they see the beauty you’ve known about for years.
This is what happened in South Durras.
South Durras is small area on the coast, some two hours by car from Canberra, where my mum and her parents and siblings would go regularly throughout her childhood and eventually bought a small beach house that they kept for fifteen years. As we drove through Durras, Mum pointed out this little house.
“That used to be Nana and Papa’s,” she smiled.
“Can’t believe they sold it,” my uncle, Tom, grumbled, clearly thinking that having a beach house on the coast would have been great given he lives near my grandparents with his three children, my cousins.
(Side note: Durras is what my mum calls South Durras because a) it doesn’t matter and b) they never went to North Durras so for them there was only the one Durras. Say Durras again. Durras.)
We parked up near Myrtle Beach and dug into lunch, enjoying all the kangaroos frolicking around nearby. My uncle, a seasoned kangaroo whisperer (he has actually been punched by a kangaroo because stuff like that does really happen in Australia sometimes), just walked up to them slowly and started petting them. No one got punched, though my cousin Reuben did run through a patch of stinging nettles with bare feet which was essentially the end of the world for twenty minutes.
One of Durras’ most famous attractions are a couple of super-chill pelicans. Seriously. These two huge birds just sat next to us, wandered around, showed off their innards (thanks, guys) before flying off in spectacular fashion. We then saw a school of dolphins swimming around off the shore. This is Australia. Yes, there are massive spiders and shells that can kill you but there are also dolphins galore and friendly pelicans. If you ever find yourself on Myrtle Beach, visit these pelicans.
My mum then herded us all off on the coastal walk of her childhood, around the headland before weaving our way back through the forest.
Walking around the headland felt like wandering around the set of Jurassic Park. The photos of this incredible walk are limited, because, of course, on the day you see one of the most spectacular landscapes you’ve even seen your battery is almost dead, because you insisted Jake do three separate photoshoots of you and a Dachshund the evening before.
I know, I know. The most important thing is to see with your own eyes blah blah blah. But taking photos is fun and, actually, the memories you made by seeing with your own eyes will fade but the photos live on forever. One day I’ll go back and I will have charged the battery.
But seriously, this walk was incredible. You could see the striations in the rocks from years of growth and wear and the pockmarked basalt from… something geological that is probably super interesting. The waves crashing into the rocks were enormous – doing justice to huge waves with a camera is extremely difficult – and there was absolutely no one else there to spoil the moment and remind us that we hadn’t actually wandered into the land before time.
The end of the walk opened out onto a panorama across the most amazing bay. We sat and watched the waves for a while, before jumping across the gap between two of the headland rocks to meander through the forest back to the car. Mum and Tom both clearly had strong, fond memories of this exact route, made from years of wandering along this stretch of coast.
So many incredible natural wonders are well documented now, which is great for people with incurable wanderlust like me. I’ve seen enough pictures of Antelope Canyon in Arizona, Diamond Beach in Iceland and Palau’s jellyfish lake to know that, at some point, I want to go there. But this coastline isn’t topping any popular listicles or making it the top of anyone’s to-travel list. In the grand scheme of travel destinations, it’s unknown, and it was only with the knowledge of someone who has spent summer after summer climbing the rocks and watching the waves in this very spot that I was able to find it.
This was a great day. I wonder what it will feel like bringing my own children to the places that have shaped me.