It’s where my memories of holidays begin. Rainbow Bay: a north-facing crescent of sand – one of the last beaches on the Queensland side of Point Danger. To the south, it’s bordered by the jagged rocks of Snapper. To the north, the lush Greenmount – dotted with Norfolk Pines and these days, home to scores of brush turkeys.
Rainbow Bay’s a place where families and retirees gather to swim in gentle, turquoise waves with little fear of dangerous rips and dumpers. When the tide recedes, lagoons and rock pools emerge – perfect for the littlies. Yet this sheltered cove also offers the perfect vantage point for some of the best surfing in the world. Okay, there’s been some contention in recent times about sand pumping. There are claims the surf has somehow been negatively affected since sand from south of the Tweed was used to replenish eroded beaches. But not everyone agrees. Lifeguard Kye Hawkins reckons, “You can still catch a wave from Snapper right round to Kirra.
That’s exactly what grommits of all shapes and sizes do. From the lookout on Greenmount, you can watch them. While Rainbow’s a haven for swimmers, her points are pumping for surfers. There’s a reason this part of the coast has produced world champions Stephanie Gilmore and Mick Fanning. Although locals would have preferred the word hadn’t got out. Tweed Heads lifer John Goosey has surfed these parts for three decades. He notes with a grin, “The waves are as good as they ever were…but now, the place is far too popular.
Indeed, head down to Rainbow’s foreshore on sunny weekend evenings and you’ll understand what he means. Hordes of family groups descend for a tea-time barbie on the shaded, grassy strip. And, why not? There are ample barbeques and picnic tables, a playground and a never-ending view.
The southern end of the Gold Coast is becoming more popular on the backpacking circuit too. While Surfers Paradise’s glitter and glitz still lures most international tourists, there are plenty of accents to be heard along the Coolangatta stretch. 25 year old Anne De Soras – on a working holiday from France – has one of them. When she’s not waitressing at a local restaurant, she’s on the beach at Rainbow Bay. She’s been here five months and plans to spend the next year or so travelling around Australia… when she can tear herself away from paradise that is.<
Over the years, Coolangatta’s popularity has waxed and waned. The first surf lifesaving club in Queensland originated at Greenmount in 1911. During the Second World War, American servicemen spent their R&R here. In the 1950s and 60s, there was the Jack Evans Porpoise Pool at Snapper, and entertainment meant doing the hokey pokey on Greenmount beach. Even the Queen has visited this neck of the woods.
Despite the resurgence of interest in recent times, compared with other parts of the Gold Coast, Rainbow Bay is still a sleepy place. Up towards Coolangatta, there’s a plethora of boutiques, some great outlet shopping and second hand bookstores, ice creameries, movie theatres, not to mention the famous Cooly pie shop. There are also plenty of top quality restaurants. From Greek to Japanese, whatever your preference, there’s sure to be something to tempt the taste buds.
By the time you get to Rainbow though, the fancy eateries and clothing shops have dried up. There are a couple of fish and chippos, a convenience store, a butcher, laundromat, and a newsagent. While the faces behind the counters have changed (or in some cases, aged), every single one of those shops has been there as long as I can remember. The smell of the laundromat is exactly as it was in the early 1980s.
Rainbow’s assets are simple, natural and beautiful. There are plenty of walkways and boardwalks. No matter which way you go, you can’t avoid spectacular scenery. If you think you’ve done one walk, retrace your steps at a different time of day and you’ll experience an entirely different mood.
There’s also plenty of accommodation, catering for all budgets, tumbling right down to the foreshore. While everything else (shops, banks, cafes etc), is not on the doorstep, it is within easy walking distance. And that’s part of the appeal: close, but not too close.
For me, Rainbow’s a reliable, old friend – a place of happy memories and long, lazy days. It’s where I had my first kiss and surfed my first wave. I even got married on her sands (well, just around the corner at Froggy’s Beach to be precise).
At high school, I’d count the hours until the September holidays, and pray for two weeks of perfect weather. Once at Rainbow, days would fall into the easy routine of beach, breakfast, beach, lunch, sleep, beach, dinner, bed. There were the “obligatories” too – the things that we always had to do every holiday. Things like walking around to Kirra, buying an ice cream at Strawberry Road, going fishing or hiring a paddle boat. If it rained (heaven forbid) there was always a drive to Fingal, ten pin bowling or dinner at Twin Towns.
Just around the point, Greenmount Beach was where my mother spent her childhood holidays. Her parents were devotees before her. Now my kids are the fourth generation to crab-spot on Cooly’s squeaky white sands. Already I’m seeing the early signs of a lifelong addiction.
Of course things have changed over time. The dear old fibro flats where I spent my some of the best weeks of my childhood have now gone: replaced by an almighty hole in the ground, pending the construction of yet another white, not-too-tall apartment block with glass balustrades. The old wooden beach stairs have made way for concrete paths and modern showers. The caravan park’s defunct, and they don’t drag fishing nets onto the beach anymore.
Dave Strotton, a lifeguard for 33 years (most of them at Rainbow) has seen “plenty of changes – good and bad.
There are times when you think a bit of development will do the place good,” he says. “Then, when the few high-rises arrived, you realise you don’t actually want them.
Despite the changes, the essence of Rainbow Bay has stood the test of time. No matter wherever else in the world I travel, this little beach will always be my pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow.