I’ve trodden many a path in my life and never can resist the lure of a new one yet this particular path has a special place in my heart.
In its own right, it’s a very appealing path to a particularly beautiful beach. Yet I think much of its allure for me is nostalgia – it reminds me of the paths to the beaches of the Kenya coast, where I grew up in the 1950s and 60s.
Chinaman’s Beach is a long way from the palm-fringed white sands of East Africa. It lies a couple of kilometres south of the small township of Evans Head in far northern New South Wales, just over the border from Queensland. And yet, there are many similarities. The sand is not so white as those of Kenya’s coast, nor indeed as white as some of the beaches north and south of Evans Head, yet it’s pale enough to glow hot and clean on a sunny day. There is no coral reef a mile or so off-shore but the rocky reefs around Snapper Headland shelter the deep bay at the southern end of the beach and make it a lovely, calm and clear place for swimming. There are no coconut palm trees this far south, either, but the handsome pandanus palms are a compensation and there is something about the vegetation that reminds me of the dune frontages north and south of Mombasa – the soft rustle of casuarinas, for example, and the tight-held shiny leaves of austromyrtus and other beachside shrubs. There are rocky headlands at either end of the beach and though these are sandstone and basalt rather than coral they give the same effect and have busy little pools at their base when the tide is low.
More than anything else, Chinaman’s Beach has that same feeling of isolation and glorious emptiness of humankind that used to characterise the beaches of my childhood. Surfers know this beach when the waves are building out beyond the point break at Snapper Rock; spear fishermen too. Otherwise, the splendid length of wide, pale sand is mostly empty. Evans Head is only a tiny town and the country folk who come down at weekends seem to prefer the more accessible sweep of beach that runs north of the township up to Broadwater National Park.
So when I am down here on holiday I am free to indulge in my nostalgia for childhood days without too much interference from others. And to remember what it was like before so many of my other once-favourite beaches became cluttered with touts and camel rides and beachfront bars and eateries and multi-coloured beachcraft of all kinds without which, it would seem, today’s beachgoers cannot enjoy themselves.
At Chinaman’s Beach there is only the sand and the sea.
And to reach it, one has to go down about 50 metres of narrow pathway, from the little carpark at the top from where you can look for whales or check out the surf. This pathway used to be just sand but recently a thoughtful local authority has put down a sort of meshed matting and timber guard rails. This makes walking easily and, I suppose, protects against erosion. It has not in the least detracted from the path’ s essential allure, which is to guide you through magical vegetation to the splendid destination beyond. That destination can be glimpsed from the top – a silvery-blue sheen of sunblessed sea; a glimpse of pristine white sand. It is the exciting essence of every beach path you ever went down in your life; inspirited by a promise that never disappoints.
But why try to find words when the photos will tell it all so much more effectively. Come down my favourite path with me and you’ll see what I mean!