It was 3 am, dark and pleasantly warm. We were getting up to go to the beach!
- Towels? Check
- Camera? Check
- Food for breakfast? Check
- Special sunglasses? Check
Our choice of beach was about half an hour’s drive away and we arrived at Palm Beach about 4am. We were not alone – there were a few people about – already relaxing on their towels, laid out on the sand. But why would people be going to the beach at this strange hour? Swimming was definitely not an option as there are stingers and the odd salt water crocodile to discourage the earnest.
Actually, we had come some 2500km (1500 miles) (from the south of Australia to Cairns in the north) to sit on the beach and watch the sun! And because we anticipated being part of many hundreds of thousands of sun seekers on this beach this very day, we wanted to be early.
To be more accurate, we were all gathered, not to see the sun, but to see it disappear completely behind the moon. We were poised to watch one of nature’s most incredible light shows – a total solar eclipse.
Our fellow sun seekers grew in numbers as the morning grew from total darkness to the first rays of dawn. The clouds on the horizon teased as they repeatedly built up, then dissipated in the area where the sun was destined to appear.
The weather had actually been teasing for a few days. Sun, then rain, then back to sunshine again. The question on everyone’s lips was “Will we have come all this way to have the eclipse hidden behind the clouds?”
Finally, the sun rose in a majestic golden ball. We reached happily for our special eclipse watching glasses, even though we did not really need them just yet. But then, as quickly as it appeared, that majestic orb slipped behind the clouds.
The disappointment amongst the (now very considerable) crowd was almost tangible.
But there was little we could do except tuck into the breakfast goodies and down a cup of coffee. And wait…….
Anxious photographers fiddled and adjusted their lenses and realigned the tripods for the hundredth time. And we waited some more…..
After nearly an hour, it seemed as if we were going to be disappointed.
Then suddenly, things got brighter. The mood on the beach switched magically as everyone again reached for their special specs.
Mother nature did not disappoint after all. The sun appeared with the moon already well over its face. Then the last vestiges of cloud blew away and we watched expectantly as the moon gradually covered more and more of the sun.
Then suddenly it felt like very late in the afternoon. It was getting dark. Within minutes, the whole beach was plunged into total darkness. The thousands of people up and down many kilometres of beach involuntarily gave a loud exclamation at the same time and at that moment, we were all a single, bonded entity – absolutely captivated by this incredible event. Then a ripple of clapping followed.
The total eclipse happened at 6:39am.
The stars were visible in the total darkness which lasted only a few minutes.
Then the sun started to re-emerge and it did not take long for the beach to be flooded in sunlight again.
The waning of the eclipse continued for another hour or so, and we stayed right to the end. The clouds had cleared by this time and we were able to track it right to the finish.
So was it worth going so far, and having to get up at 3am to watch this incredible event? Absolutely. It will go down as one of the most awesome things I have ever witnessed.
I would travel around the world to see another one. Luckily for Australia, we are scheduled to have another one in Sydney in 2028.