We’ve now been in Caloundra for more than a week and unlike our time in New Zealand, we don’t have countless pictures of fabulous exploits to send home. As Tom pointed out, we purposely took things down a notch so we could muster our energies for the “tough” countries that are coming up in the next few months. We still have plenty of pictures and will still be hitting some fun tourist activities in the next two weeks, but the nature of our travels has changed for the moment. For the first time in our married lives, we’re enjoying a vacation at the beach. We’ve been to many beaches around the world over the past 16 years; we even lived directly on a beach in Connecticut for one year and mere blocks from the beach in southern California for six. During all these travels and this tenure, we never slowed down sufficiently to build sandcastles, get to know the surf, or study the tides. I especially am not good at this particular form of relaxation. There is always something that needs to be written, cleaned, studied, or fixed, so how can I just kick a ball or sit still and stare at the sea?
Caloundra seemed the perfect place for us to experiment with guilt-free relaxation. The southernmost town on the Sunshine Coast, it is free of the swanky international resorts that draw tourists from Asia, Europe, and even America to the towns in the north. People actually live here, work here, and as all good Australians do, play here. Many also vacation here, especially during the current school holidays. We worried that our timing, which was unfortunate from a cost perspective, would mean crowded beaches, packed restaurants, and noisy streets. Not so. We know the visitors are here, we just haven’t figured out where they are.
The first thing Tom did after we rented the house we are in was to visit the surf shop across the street to get the inside scoop on surf lessons for the big boys. While there he met Cap’n Rob, a Caloundra native, who grew up surfing the town’s beaches and had plenty of valuable advice to offer an American visitor. We ran into Rob a few days later at Happy Valley Beach, known to the locals as Happy’s, where per his suggestion, we had signed Dax and McKane up for surfing lessons. Tom had to race off to Brisbane to apply for our Chinese visas, an exercise in pain and frustration I’ll let him describe at a later time, but Rob and I visited for a good hour. The topics of our conversation ranged from Rory, the spirited and frighteningly mature eight year old neighbor who accompanied him, to his work as an entertainer at children’s parties, from the local real estate market in which he has wisely invested, to his travels in the US with his wife and five children. His insights are, I think, the stuff articles are made of, so I won’t offer them all here. One point I will share however is his analysis of his hometown. Caloundra, it seems, is daggy. What the heck is daggy? It’s certainly not stroppy. That’s the word the Kiwi Encounter used to describe its resident female kiwi, and which, as a very nice British tourist explained, means grumpy. Nor is it cheeky, long one of our favorite Commonwealth expressions, which means something like good-naturedly naughty.
Daggy, it turns out, describes Rory’s surfboard, which his dad got off Ebay. It’s a Chupa Chips board, the equivalent of a Starburst or M&M’s basketball at home. Rob explained that the days of the Chupa Chips board are numbered since soon the worldly Rory will realize it’s daggy, a little kitschy, a little outdated, a little behind the times. Like Caloundra. Aha! So this is why I love this place. It’s a diamond in the rough, dismissed by the rich and famous as provincial and unsophisticated but embraced by the locals with an unapologetic home-grown enthusiasm. It’s hard to imagine Caloundra, like towns to the north and the overdeveloped Gold Coast to the south, will not be transformed into just another resort town in the near future. If it does, Rob will be a wealthy pirate, but much of what he loves about his home might go the way of everything daggy, esteemed as a treasure by the masses only after it has disappeared.
We’re glad to be in Caloundra now…before the transformation…feelin’ happy, gettin’ daggy.