The sign down to the beach indicates 150 metres. 149 steps later, my bare feet get what they have been craving – silky golden sand. My toes waste no time and start arching their way through the waves of sand beneath them, like a pod of 10 oddly shaped dolphins dipping and diving through the surface of the sand.
I’ve come for the low tide at Middle Beach and have hit it bang on. The famous rock shelves are exposed in full glory. I’m not alone, despite being the only human. Being an enthusiast for birds, I note there are an assortment of species with elongated beaks who’ve come to dine in, or simply takeaway on some of the salty sea water morsels on offer.
I slip on my ‘Hot Tuna’ booties to go exploring. I look down and realise there’s nothing hot about these two black foot-long condoms. Luckily Lord Howe Island is not a place for the fashion conscious, or the latest brand ambassadors – it’s all about practicality as I start rock hopping my way to the sound of my own voice … “here comes the hot stepper..”
The first furtive clam I stumble upon smiles at me. Upon closer inspection, perhaps it was a frown, however I waste no time and move on. I’ve seen these guys squirt before and I’m not quite feeling like a salty spit to the face quite yet. These clams do have a puckery set of irresistible big black lips and I can see why if you were a fish you’d want to get up close and personal, they’re just so seductively sumptuous.
I bounce from rock pool to rock pool, like a floundering semi-warm tuna out of water. I feel like I’m beaming and it’s obvious these rock pools are teaming with life. There’s a slug slumber party happening in one and a slightly more hostile spiky sea urchin fiesta in the next. I can see why marine biologists start foaming at the mouth over this stuff. These pockets of miniature marine ecosystems are indeed fascinating the closer you examine their contents.
Shells of varying sizes, colours and shapes lie sleepily vacant on the rock pool beds. ‘If it’s a cone, leave it alone!’ …. the booming voice of a Queensland Great Barrier Reef Guide still ringing in my ears, ten months on from my last holiday.
Colourful bursts of brain coral overlap with fuzzy sponge bob square things, wavy ribbons of moss dance with the retreating tide, all intricately peppered with tiny fish seeking shelter, food, and their place in the world. There’s literally dozens of things here I can’t even begin to describe, in between the fluorescent satellite-dish objects clinging to barnacle wallpapered rocks, lie camouflaged clams, slippery black cucumber slugs and underwater barn dancing crabs.
Up above the waters’ surface, the entire shelf looks like a spider web of submerged rock pools. Only the top crusts of these closely connected ring shaped craters appear, a retaining wall upon which visiting birds and humans can meander and gander.
They call it beach combing, but it feels a bit more like rock pool perving – whereby you cruise up and down the side of these pools, observing what’s lounging about inside. It’s simply rock pool voyeurism, and on an island famed for it’s appropriate place names, I feel this activity should hereby be renamed….rock pool perving at Middle Beach.