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Just 25 minutes north of Newcastle is Port Stephens, well known for its epic sand dunes and legendary sand surfing. If you want to know what to expect, take it from someone who’s experienced it.
Three days after sand surfing Port Stephen’s infamous sand dunes and I’m still plucking sand grains from unsavoury places. Don’t grimace, you’re not the one still finding half a beach in your briefs. My ears alone have taken hostage of enough granules to fill a sandbox, my fingernails resemble the Sahara. Stockton Beach. That’s the culprit. This long stretch of shoreline, correctly known as the Worimi Conservation Lands, covers an area of over 4,200 hectares, is 1km wide, 32km long and by the look (and feel) of things, most of it has now taken occupancy in my orifices.
As well as gargantuan proportions, Stockton Beach also boasts gargantuan sand dunes; the largest moving sand mass in the Southern Hemisphere. And due to its strong Aboriginal heritage (the traditional owners being the Worimi people) the landscape is also littered with an extraordinary number of cultural sites, such as burial grounds, campsites and middens. I know all this because the guys at Sand Dune Adventures told me during our briefing. I was listening intently because, before trying our hand at sand surfing, we were going to ride quad bikes across the desert-like plains. Having once quite spectacularly taken a moped ‘off-road’ (and down an embankment and into a bush) I was nervous. Big grunty machines aren’t exactly my forte, and here I was about to straddle a quad bike.
I’d just like to add a side note here. Sand Dune Adventures also offer hummer tours. Burly military-style SWAT vans accommodating a maximum of 12 guests and built for a battering. They’re indestructible. You could probably roll a hummer down several embankments and still resurface, Chuck Norris-style, with little more than a sore finger. I contemplate asking if they'll let me take that option instead. Turns out, they already have a driver and passengers have to sit in the back - well away from the steering wheel.
Fears aside, the guys managed to dispel my quad bike qualms and I attempted to carve up the sand like an aggressive boy racer in a Pulsar. I did notice the kids in the pack (7 year olds and over are welcome) rode smaller, less powerful 90cc quads. I thought I might suggest to a daredevil nine year old that we should swap, but it was too late, we were already in formation; single file and skimming across the sand dunes like a snake. Maybe it was the curve upon curve of silky golden sand, or the shimmering caramel cliffs and never-ending sand shelves, but it didn’t take long for my jitters to completely disappear.
Twenty minutes later and sand dunes the size of houses came crashing into our viewpoint. Some of these giants reach heights of up to 40 metres. We hopped off the quads and stood before them - in total awe and mild trepidation; much like Hillary did at the base of Everest, I suspect. From small hills to gigantic folds, power it to the top and you can glide all the way back down on a sand board; surfing the dunes like a desert Kelly Slater. You ‘can’, most people did, but I did not. At some point I forgot to listen to our instructors explain the basics of sand boarding. My mind had drifted (much like the sand) to other things. And hummers. Mostly the hummers. Consequently, I descended those dunes like your grandma at Christmas, after one too many sherries and far too much figgy pudding.
Apparently, the best way to control your descent is to use your hands to steer and slow down, but mostly it’s just a case of give it your best shot and see what happens. I enjoyed high speeds, wind-whipped ears and numerous rolls in the sand at the bottom. Sand slapped my face and I ate at least half the beach. It was terrific. If ever you want to relive the jubilation of being a kid let loose in the playground, this is it. Stockton Beach and its notorious sand dunes are slides on steroids; worth every grain of uncomfortable sand found three days later. In your pants, ears, nails, nostrils, scalp... Well, you get the point.
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