The coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Bronte casts a spell during magic hour.
It was the early days of winter in Australia, with temperatures fluctuating throughout the day, like a bloody wind vane on a hurricane. It’s a confusing climate, to me at least. There I was in my jeans and thick cotton jacket, obviously dressed for the cold but eating a chilled Açaí smoothie bowl because somehow, I also felt quite warm. I was sat under a tree in a school courtyard in Bondi, a beach town just a few kilometres from Sydney’s city centre. Every Sunday, Bondi Public School becomes Bondi Markets– the school courtyard transformed to an outdoor food court, replete with colourful plastic chairs and wooden tables and surrounded by food stalls along the perimeter; the main school ground is dotted with stalls selling artisanal and vintage goods showcased by enterprising and artsy folks. I managed to buy a delicate gold necklace with a Bodhi tree pendant for $15. Not exactly cheap, like most things sold here, but the craftsmanship is beautiful. I thought it can serve as a good luck charm for the rest of my trip in Australia and particularly for my adventure that late afternoon.
Outside, across the road from the school, is the starting point of my rendezvous: Bondi Beach. From where I was standing all up to the avenue parallel to the beach, shops and cafes and restaurants are lined up and the footpaths along it are brimming with people of all sorts. Getting to the beach, the same holds true. But the sprawling white beaches of Bondi and its promenade seemed to accommodate everyone and even leave a couple of wide spaces open. It does not look too crowded anymore than it rather looked lively. I know it is technically winter but somehow that afternoon, it felt like people were enjoying the dog days of summer.
I, for one, felt this warmth. I could not tell if it was an actual change in temperature or perhaps a desire to fit in, but I just know then that if I did not take my jacket off, roll the cuffs of my jeans and go barefoot, I would be missing out on the experience. So, tying my shoes on my backpack, I took the stairs down from the promenade and into the the fine, white-sand beach of Bondi. The breeze was a bit nippy but the last few rays of the afternoon sun tempered it with enough heat that it felt good on my skin. Children, teenagers, adults, babes and dogs frolic within the beach area– each doing things and also not doing things. I grabbed my camera from my bag and hung it from my neck like a badge as I walked along the shore. The afternoon is too pretty not to capture.
Going back to the promenade, I put my shoes back on and walked alongside the painted walls. Murals line up the path that led to a skate park. A crowd was gathered along the railings encircling the sunken concrete playground, enjoying the spectacle of skater boys throwing theirselves about, as if their bodies and their boards are one and this is all just a thrilling dance. I remembered when I was doing surfing lessons a while back and my instructor at one point– a kid way younger than me, told me this wisdom that belied his age: You and the board must be one. You let it know your intention and it will follow you. Yoda– if he didn’t mix up the order of words– right there. And that could very well be true. It seemed to be for the skaters at the park that afternoon.
I allowed my gaze to wander beyond the park and into the vast ocean beyond it. The afternoon sun has casted some amazing glittery effects on the water as peeks of orange glow over the horizon, rendering the sands on the beach a golden hue. Surfers take their turns on the waves– Bondi is known for its good surfing spots, after all. Yet I didn’t feel the need to get out there as I would have, say 3 years ago. It surprised me. Given that I do not actually have a wetsuit with me, the younger, reckless me would have bought one on the shops along Bondi Avenue and rented a board and hired an instructor. I would be out there in the water, getting spun and tumbled on and wiped out by the waves. I tried to picture myself out there now but it wasn’t as clear. And besides, I have some walking to do.
The Bondi to Bronte coastal walk is estimated at 3 kms, passing by Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches through a guided path atop cliffs. Most people can finish it in an hour, and looking at my watch, I should be done by half past 5. I followed the path only to stop soon enough by Motts Avenue, overlooking an olympic-sized pool. Bondi Baths, they call it.
From where I was standing, the pool looked like it was an extension of the sea, carved out of the cliffs as it protrudes towards the ocean. It looked impressive. For about $6, one can enjoy some laps on the historic pool and a sauna bath afterwards. Above the pool area, the glass-panelled Bondi Icebergs unobtrusively looms. An exclusive, members-only bar and restaurant, the Icebergs is pretty posh by reputation and would take more than $6 for a table with a view of both the pool and the Pacific Ocean beyond it. I could just imagine an amazing view come sunset and the people over there enjoying it with a glass of Malbec.
Ah, to be rich and famous. Those club members are a lucky lot.
I walked on. Joggers and brisk walkers move past me but I took my time on the path, taking photos from time to time and stopping by to admire the view. By that time, the light was just perfect. The golden hour. As a photography enthusiast, I live for this window hour after sunrise and before sunset where everything is bathed with the right amount of daylight, not too harsh, rendering its subjects with a warm glow.
The sea breeze was cool and sweet and reminded me at once to put my jacket back on . The temperatures are dropping, I can tell, as the sun begins to set over the horizon.
By the time I reached Tamarama Beach, the sun has now set upon Sydney. Tamarama Beach is obviously smaller: just 80m of shoreline compared with Bondi’s 1 km; but what it lacks in sand area, it makes up for reputation. This little slice of paradise is known to be frequented by beautiful people, perhaps choosing to stay away from bustling Bondi, and thus earning the moniker ‘Glamarama’. I could not tell from where I was standing if this is true at all, but there was a rather otherworldly beauty unfolding before me to make me consider: The sunset. And so, I settled on a nice spot, prepared to take a photo. It was a good vantage point: everything looked gorgeous. I took out my camera. Turned the knob on. Nothing. Again. Nothing.
Just my luck.
So I sat there instead, dead camera on hand, looking at the scene before my eyes with equal intensity and wistfulness, afraid that I might forget it. The sun in that moment was Midas and everything he touched turned to gold: the water, the cliffs, the sand and even the people admiring its beauty, all bathed in its warm glow. The sky it left, as if in joyful sorrow, turned technicolor: shades of purple and yellow and blue, swirled together like a cotton candy. It was magic.
I am now part of the lucky lot. Red wine optional.
Noticing the sun in a half-mast over the horizon, I had to pry myself away from the view and went on my way to finish what I started. I chased the dying rays of the sun on my path as I followed the trail above the sandstone cliffs. Ending just right above the ocean, I reached Bronte Beach just before it turned dark. The fainting absorbed light from its white sandy beaches barely illuminated the scene, and the houses and buildings on the cliffside signalled that I’ve some to the end of my walk.
The light of the golden hour has come to pass. But the spell it cast remained on the land and the sea, in some sort of afterglow, only waiting to be discovered the next day, and the day after that, and so on. I would do this walk in this hour everyday if I could. And if you do happen to come by this side of the world, you definitely should.