They had been planning this holiday for an eternity, so to have finally arrived felt like a dream. They had been driving for days, stopping at beaches along the way, but nothing compared to the bustling vibe of Surfer’s Coast. They had heard about it before from a few of their friends who travelled here one summer, but they’d never actually been. And now they were here.
They gaped at the number of people on the main street and the crowd cluttering the sand. They stood in the car park together for an unreasonable amount of time, leaning against their four wheel drive and attempting to burn the scene into their memories.
Eventually, Erik turned to Emmelie. ‘What would you like to do first?’ he asked.
Emmelie’s eyes grew wide, overwhelmed by the possibilities. Eventually she took a breath. ‘Snorkelling,’ she said.
There was a tourist information desk in a small shack by the beach, and they walked there. Emmelie couldn’t contain her excitement as she entered. ‘We’d like to know when the next snorkelling expedition is going out,’ she said to the lady behind the counter.
‘They won’t be leaving again until eleven-thirty,’ the lady said, pushing a piece of gum around her mouth lazily with her tongue. The clock on the wall told Emmelie that they would have to wait just over an hour. She turned to Erik.
‘Is that okay?’ she asked, her eyes pleading.
‘Of course,’ he replied. ‘You’re not the only one who wants to see the ruins.’
‘May we book in for that trip then, please?’ Emmelie asked.
The lady traded the pair’s money for boarding passes and shooed them from her information desk with her unenthused expression.
The pair killed time walking the streets of Surfer’s Coast. They spent most of the hour exploring the esplanade, which was almost entirely comprised of high rises and boutiques, but as they ventured further from the coast they began to notice a handful of old warehouses and abandoned shopping plazas. A row of portraits on yellowing paper filled a nearby window pane, depicting missing persons who were lost in the floods, years ago; Emmelie wondered if any of those people were ever found.
‘I’m surprised they haven’t just demolished all of this and built apartments. Surely they need the space,’ Emmelie said as they circled around, wandering back towards the beach.
‘I heard the government made rules about how much of the original infrastructure could be replaced. I’m sure it won’t be long before that changes though – not much use keeping these abandoned buildings,’ Erik replied.
They found the jetty and walked across the planks. Emmelie grinned at the hollow sound of her shoes hitting the wood – it was just like she’d always imagined. She squeezed Erik’s hand tightly.
They approached the boat and showed their boarding passes to the man supervising the gangway. He took them for a moment, frowned at them, frowned at the pair, frowned at the passes once more, and then returned them. Emmelie and Erik giggled to themselves as they boarded the boat.
It wasn’t very big, but then it didn’t have to be for it to still be the most exciting boat they had ever been on; they had never even seen a boat before, let alone felt the water shifting one gently beneath their feet. Emmelie immediately headed to the bow, leaning over the railing to gaze at the water. She was enraptured. Erik held her tightly around the waist, not wanting her to accidentally fall.
When the engine began to roar, Emmelie jumped. The boat cut through the water, kicking spray up around their faces. The salt water stung Emmelie’s eyes, but she didn’t care – she needed to keep her eyes open so she could take everything in. They were going to see the ruins and she didn’t want to miss a moment of this adventure.
Emmelie alternated between watching the churning water and the receding coastline for the hour they travelled, never once growing tired of the scenery. When the boat finally slowed and the engine stopped, a voice over a loud speaker announced that they were approximately twelve kilometres from Surfer’s Coast, directly above the most impressive of the ruins.
‘Erik, look,’ Emmelie said, pointing. ‘You can sort of see them through the water.’
Erik leant over the railing. There were dark shadows beneath the surface, obscured by the lapping waves. ‘Wouldn’t you rather see them up close?’ Erik asked.
Emmelie removed her sundress, beneath which she was wearing a simple bikini, and Erik took off his shirt, leaving only his boardshorts. They collected their goggles and snorkels from the box of gear being minded by one of the boat’s crewmen. ‘You look like an idiot,’ Emmelie said to Erik, giggling as he put his set on.
‘So do you,’ he retorted as she did the same.
There were ten other patrons wanting to snorkel, and they each lowered themselves down the ladder and into the water slowly. ‘Are there any sharks in here?’ one of women called up to nobody in particular as she was about to dip her toes in. The half a dozen people already swimming froze at the prospect, but the shake of a crewman’s head reassured them.
Emmelie had swum in the ocean before, but only near the coast – being this far out, unable to touch the sand, was exhilarating and terrifying. She clung to Erik at first, but when she realised she was starting to pull him under, she tried paddling on her own instead.
‘Don’t be afraid to duck under the water and have a look,’ somebody shouted from the boat. ‘But remember, breathe through your mouth and don’t stray too far.’
With a final, excited look at Erik, Emmelie peered down at the fabled ruins. She was immediately so shocked that she inhaled through her nose and, coughing, had to resurface. Erik, hair still dry, was laughing at her.
‘You’re not meant to breathe the water,’ he said.Emmelie mustered her most disgruntled impression and duck-dived again.
The ruins were breathtaking; Emmelie remembered to replenish her oxygen through her mouth this time. It didn’t take much to imagine the buildings, now worn away from the constant flow of water and overrun by long tendrils of seaweed, as mighty high rises that would almost put those of Surfer’s Coast to shame. She could imagine hundreds of people – thousands – walking down the streets that she now swam above.
She basked in the beauty and the tragedy of the ruins for as long as she could bear before returning to the surface. Half of the patrons had already returned to the boat. Erik was swimming nearby, watching her with a bemused expression.
‘What?’ she asked, smirking.
‘You’re so excited – it’s nice,’ he said.
She rolled her eyes. ‘What did they say this place used to be called?’ she asked.
He thought for a moment before replying. ‘I think they said it was called Surfer’s Paradise.’