A panel, set up for the purpose, has recently delivered its verdict on the best beach in the world. Is it somewhere in the Mediterranean? Hawaii, perhaps? Maybe Thailand? Or could it be on the east coast of Australia?
None of these. It is Lucky Bay, near Esperance, in Western Australia.
Long before it had attracted fame, or had even managed to get itself mentioned on maps, I visited Lucky Bay with my partner, Janet. We had traversed the Nullarbor Plain from east to west and, at Norseman, had headed south, looking for the coast, and for somewhere to pitch our tent.
We chanced upon Lucky Bay.
The day was gorgeous, and so was the beach. It was sheltered from the restless Southern Ocean by the bay containing it. Within the bay and near its entrance were a couple of picturesque islands. The sand on the beach was so white, at first sight I thought it must be made of salt. And it squeaked when I walked on it.
Nobody else was about. We had the beach to ourselves for the handful of days we stayed there.
Brand-new public facilities serviced the beach without intruding on it. They included a couple of toilets, a single cold-water shower, and ample space for cooking. What more could we want, especially since these facilities were effectively our own for the duration?
We pitched our tent on nearby dunes, cradled by beach foliage. I pumped up our air-bed, and Janet, who had complained of a bad back, lay down on it to rest her aching bones or whatever. I set things up for our stay: our camping stove – powered by portable propane gas cylinders – collapsible table and chairs, our food boxes. In short, I managed all those mundane tasks of camp-craft essential for pulling off a road trip of the kind on which we had embarked.
We had it made. We had hit the jackpot here at Lucky Bay.
If you look up our heaven-sent destination on Google or some such, you will find these days it is visited by loads of people. And it is supposedly frequented by curious kangaroos, unafraid of people. These kangaroos have become a talking point, an advertising draw-card, a word-of-mouth legend. Come to Lucky Bay and cavort with the kangaroos.
In our day and on our date, neither the people nor the kangaroos were in evidence.
Everything ship-shape at our camp site, I wandered down to the beach again. As I said, there was not a kangaroo to be seen. There was not a person to be seen. But, b’Jesus, there was something to be seen. And it was big.
Not a hundred metres from me, close by in the water, were two southern right whales, mother and calf. I had seen whales before, both southern right and humpback, but never so close up. Bible black (as Dylan Thomas might have said), and framed by turquoise sea and white-as-white sand, this pair was an unforgettable and unimaginable sight.
Excited by my find, I ran to tell Janet. Dubious, she followed me down to the beach. When she saw them, she forgot her bad back. Screaming with delight, and gripped by a reckless excitement, she stripped down to her underwear, and hurled herself into the water, heading in their direction.
Mother whale was not impressed. She raised her huge bifurcated tail and slapped it down on the water. Whack! It had an effect comparable to that of a dam burst. She did this several times more. Janet heeded the warning. She stopped in her tracks. This whale was bigger than she was, thirty? forty? fifty? times over.
She came back out of the water. We sat down together on the gleaming sand and watched these wondrous creatures from a safe distance.
Later in the day, we found that the whales had migrated to the other side of the bay, close to the islands. We couldn’t blame them. We could still see them: two black blobs in the water, a couple of kilometres away. Safe from our potential intrusion.
How very privileged we had been. We had seen the whales close up, and had even interacted with them in a sense, even though this interaction was one they could have done without.
Their thoughts might have been along the lines, How dare those pesky pink things on two legs invade the bay in which we habitually shelter!
I’m not sure that whales these days would find Lucky Bay suitable as a refuge. By all reports, the invasion of bipeds – of both the pink and the furry variety – is in full swing. Sadly, their sanctuary has been discovered.
Isn’t there a way we could share our world with other species that clearly have a legitimate claim to it?