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PacificEdge | September 18, 2019

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Less a town than a landscape

Russ Grayson

WATCH OUT for the sea eagle, he said… it perches on the old dead tree that sticks out from the cliff…

And there it is. A big bird, white head and chest, black wings, in a big blue seascape edged by the golden sands of a coastline that stretches all the way north towards the Gold Coast.

An iIconic image of the the far north coast of NSW — Mt Warning on the horizon, the bay and a sea eagle.

An iconic image of the the far north coast of NSW — Mt Warning on the horizon, the bay and a sea eagle.

On my morning walks from town to Cape Byron and back I got to know that big grey bird that the walker told me about. It was often there on that broken branch of that grayed, dead tree. One day, I was lucky enough to watch it feeding on some silvery fish it had scooped from the ocean surface. Other times it would sit passively, only the occasional and barely perceptible movement of its head giving away the fact that it was awake.

I saw that walker who had told me about the bird again, too. He was one of the early morning regulars, people who walk by themselves or with a friend or two to to get some exercise before the heat of the day made such activities sweaty and uncomfortable. They start from somewhere in town and walk up the road that takes you to the lighthouse, then down the track along the edge of the cliffline, down to Wattegos Beach. Or, sometimes, they — and I — might go other way with the steeper climb up the cliffline track making a tougher route.

When you start early enough you made the walk in the cooler light of early morning. Leave the same time in winter and you started by streetlight, the sun still well below the horizon. There’s a delicious strangeness to starting then and you arrived on Cape Byron in time to watch the sun rise from the eastern ocean.

On those winter mornings, when you to look to the northern horizon and see the pale glow there, you realise just how close is the Gold Coast. Look hard enough when the air is clear — binoculars help — and you see the top of of some of those Gold Coast high-rise spires. Closer at hand, though still a great many kilometres across the bay, are the scattered lights of the Pottsville area and, looking out, I wonder if there is some early riser at the same time looking towards the strobing beacon of Cape Byron on which I stood.

The lighthouse on Cape Byron seen on an early morning walk to the Cape

The lighthouse on Cape Byron seen on an early morning walk to the Cape

Sometimes, there’s the visual treat of watching a pod of dolphins close to the shore or, in the right season, of watching a humpback whale leap from the sea to splash down into it with a great spray of foam. This is a special place and it was fortunate to live here.

Seen from Cape Byron, the sun emerges from the Pacific. The sculpture was one of a number along the Cape Byron walking track during the annual sculpture festival.

Seen from Cape Byron, the sun emerges from the Pacific. The sculpture was one of a number along the Cape Byron walking track during the annual sculpture festival.

Less a town than a landscape

Some say that Byron isn’t much of a town… that it doesn’t have the visual cohesiveness of Noosa’s town centre, up on the Sunshine Coast, that it is overpopulated by transients… but that’s not what matters. What matters is not the town itself but its setting, for the best thing about this nook of the north coast is the landscape. Where else do you find visions of long beaches and hills and distant mountains framing your northern horizon?

That’s why I always stop on those early morning hikes to sit and gaze from Cape Byron, to see the landscape in the grays of an early winter morning with the lights of town and farmstead still twinkling in the folds of the hills and along the stretch of the coastline, just before the sun comes over the horizon; to see the that vast bay and those mountains painted in the blues of early morning; then to descend the cliffline track, enter the low forest and emerge at the end of Wattegos.

The Border ranges and others closer frame the view from Cape Byron, over Byron Bay to the north. Mt Warning, the plug of an ancient shield volcano, stands above the ranges to be the first point of the Australian mainland to receive the sun.

The Border ranges and others closer frame the view from Cape Byron over Byron Bay to the north. Mt Warning, the plug of an ancient shield volcano, stands above the ranges to be the first point of the Australian mainland to receive the sun.

Those critics are right about Bryon — it isn’t much of a town. Just an ad-hoc collection of buildings, old and new, clinging to the bay at the southern end of its long, curving sweep where it takes a turn to culminate at the Cape.

But Byron is mare than a town. It’s a landscape where sea, mountain, coastal plain and beach come together in a geographic juxtaposition that pleases the eye and the mind, and in doing so made those early morning treks to the Cape so worthwhile, and the sight of that sea eagle perched on its dead branch a reminder that, here, geological history has created something truly inspiring and beautiful.

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