A Summer Road Trip to the Big Sur Coast
The fog is so thick that we can’t see around the next bend. The vast Pacific Ocean stretches out beside us, yet we can barely sense its presence. We set out on the road just after sunrise, and we’ve been driving for the past 30 minutes through what seems like a cloak of cloud. Since we’re on what is said to be one of the USA’s most spectacular coastlines, we expected to actually be able to see the scenery.
After stopping a petrol station and chatting to some locals, we soon learn that this is the norm in these parts. Have patience, they tell us. And sure enough, once we’re back on the road navigating the serpentine stretch of Highway 1, sunlight gradually begins to filter through.
The landscape that has been hiding behind the fog is definitely worth the wait, and the coastline is more rugged than I expected, with waves tumbling dramatically over knuckles of dark, jagged rocks. At the bottom of the looming cliffs, sit coves of pristine beaches. At first I wonder why they’re so deserted, but then realise that a rather intrepid trip is required to actually reach most of them.
There’s a photo-worthy moment virtually every few hundred metres and the amount of times we stop the car to take in the view soon becomes comical. Just when we think we’ve found the ultimate vantage point to capture the stunning landscape, we find an even better one a few minutes up the road.
Though we can’t get down to the beach itself, we’ve been given directions to a secluded water hole towards the southern end of Big Sur. The only trouble is, the trail is marked only with a small wooden sign, meaning we drive past it several times before actually setting eyes on it. And given the limited breadth of this winding highway, finding places to do a U-turn is no small feat – nor is finding a place to park on the side of the road. We finally ease our vehicle into a tight patch of dirt and set off on the walking trail, which rises and falls in sharp intervals with the landscape. We can hear the gush of water coming from down the slope, yet the trail leads upwards. Eager for a swim, we decide to forge our own path.
After clambering over large rocks for several minutes – some requiring small hops, others leaps of faith – we arrive at the edge of stream. It seems we’ve found the right place, as someone has conveniently set a metal pipe across the watery divide, accompanied by an ageing piece of rope, which, we assume, is intended as a makeshift handrail. I shimmy across the pipe to the rocks on the other side and then catch our backpacks as my friend throws them over to safety before manoeuvring her own way across the pipe. The roar of water grows louder as we climb further up the rocks, and we are soon rewarded: An elegant waterfall sashays down a small cliff face and into a secluded water hole below.
Immediately we strip down to our swimmers and leap in, yelping as the unexpected chill wraps itself around our skin. As I gaze down at my feet burrowing into the pebbles below, large brown fish swim lazily around them as if undeterred by – or accustomed to – the invasion of their space. A small natural staircase rises up the side of the waterfall to a small ledge and I climb its slippery surface to revel its spray, like a high-pressure shower tumbling over my head and shoulders. As I lean back to steady myself on the ledge, my friend yells out to me in a slight panic from the pool below. “Poison ivy!” she squeals, pointing to the green plant spread across the rock face, no doubt envisioning having to spend the rest of the roadtrip next to me itching like crazy. I snatch back my hand just in time and retreat back down to the water hole.
Soon it’s nearing afternoon, and we’ve planned to have lunch at the famous Big Sur Bakery, whose pastries are said to be amongst the best in California. But first we’re going to make the most of our own private slice of Big Sur. We spread our towels out on the rocks, lie back in the sun and settle in for a well-deserved nap.
This story was originally published on The Weekend Edition.