On this day last year, I did a daring thing: I actually got up to see a sunrise. Perhaps this doesn’t seem so daring to most of my readers, but it was something I hadn’t done for years, and it changed me more than I expected.
Setting the scene
To be absolutely clear, yes, I had seen sunrises before. But I don’t know when the last time would have been.
I said when when writing about 2019 sunsets that I didn’t think I’d seen a sunrise in 2019. The same was true of 2020. When it came to 2021, I thought of seeing the first sunrise, but realised I had no idea where to go to see it. So I guess I didn’t really expect my sunrise viewing habits to change that year.
I’d generally agreed with Douglas Adams:
I’ve never understood all this fuss people make about the dawn. I’ve seen a few and they’re never as good as the photographs, which have the additional advantage of being things you can look at when you’re in the right frame of mind, which is usually around lunchtime.
And to a fair extent I still do. Getting up early isn’t usually my thing. So what changed?
The Great Ocean Walk
It was the end of my fourth day on the Great Ocean Walk. I was staying at the Johanna Beach hike-in campsite, with a view back over some of the beach we’d walked along:
The sunset to the west had been lovely, but I realised this beach section would be roughly to the east, and wondered what a sunrise might look like.
All I had to do was get out of my tent, walk 50m, and see whatever I saw. And if it wasn’t worth seeing I could go straight back to bed. I looked it up and found the sunrise would be at 7:21AM, so not too early.
It was about the easiest possible way to experience a sunrise, and had the potential to be spectacular. What did I have to lose?
I think if, say, sunrise had been 6AM, or if I’d had to pack up my tent, eat breakfast, and walk some distance before I got there, I wouldn’t have bothered. On such small details hang weightier moments.
Enter the vampires!
Back then, the idea of vampires hadn’t twisted itself together with sunrises in my mind. But there were vampires involved. Or at least one vampire, and a most famous one: Dracula.
I was in the middle of an audiobook of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and was listening to it before going to sleep (apparently this isn’t normal behaviour?). Since I was nearing the end, I felt like keeping going rather than waiting for the following evening.
Perhaps that should have counted me out for sunrise. But I really was curious to find out what it would be like.
A wonderful sunrise
Sure enough, morning came, and I stumbled out of my tent into the cold. And at first it looked like a no show. It got to a few minutes after sunrise was due, and, while there was a little colour on the horizon, that looked like all I could expect.
What I hadn’t realised was that it was rising over the hills to the north of the beach, not direct from the ocean. Just as I was thinking of returning to my tent, the colour became more pronounced and focused on a particular point. Then a few minutes later it rose above the hills:
And yes, I went back to sleep afterwards.
(Not quite) in the lion’s den
If that first sunrise had been a disappointment, I don’t know whether I’d have gone to the trouble of seeing more. But since it was a success, why not try again?
After another day of walking I’d reached the Ryan’s Den campsite, which had its own dedicated lookout. Well, actually, a pair of lookouts - the one on the right had provided decent views of the sunset, and I hoped the one on the left would provide just as good views of the sunrise. 100m from my tent this time, not 50m, but who’s counting?
The reader can judge the results, but I was certainly glad to have been there watching the sunrise:
Here be vampires, maybe?
That day I reached my final campsite, the oddly named Devil’s Kitchen campsite. For the record, I found it the coldest and windiest campsite on the Great Ocean Walk. I have no desire to be made a meal of, but a roaring fire might have improved the place.
Vampires are known to be cold, and the book had suggested that Dracula had made a deal with the devil in exchange for eternal life. Perhaps the campsite was a vampire haunt? If so, they didn’t bother me.
Once more, the sunrise was easy to get up for, so why not?
There was even a random helicopter flying about:
A return to normal life
That day I reached the fabled Twelve Apostles, completing my walk, then returned Melbourne.
Once there, I didn’t immediately rush out to see a sunrise. But nor did I forget. It had been a great experience, and I was eager to repeat it if the conditions were right.
An interlude: Interview with the Vampire
I may have started by re-listening to the classic vampire tale Dracula, but I’d done that for comparison. I was really more interested in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, recommended by a friend. I really enjoyed the ones I read, and they will be on my favourite books for 2021 list (when I get round to writing it…).
So when I returned to Melbourne I started with the first one, Interview with the Vampire. And these words particularly stuck with me, from when Louis journeyed to Europe to try and find other vampires:
I wanted those waters to be blue. And they were not. They were the nighttime waters, and how I suffered then, straining to remember the seas that a young man’s untutored senses had taken for granted, that an undisciplined memory had let slip away for eternity. The Mediterranean was black, black off the coast of Italy, black off the coast of Greece, black always, black when in the small cold hours before dawn.
I haven’t been to the Mediterranean (yet!) but was reading the book shortly after returning from the Great Ocean Walk, and it struck home how much vampires were really losing. I love the daylight (though maybe usually long after sunrise 😉). And on that walk I’d walked along many cliff-tops, seeing the ocean in different shades of blue and green with white-capped waves. I didn’t want to lose that.
Yes, I’d also walked along those same cliff-tops at night, hearing the waves crashing and seeing the ocean black with stars above and the occasional blinking light across the water. But I wouldn’t want that to be my only view of the ocean.
But there was an earlier clue. In the process of transforming into a vampire, Louis saw his final sunrise. And I think the scene was captured well by the film:
It has that sense of impending immortality and power, but there’s also the feeling of loss. He said goodbye to the sunlight. He adopted a nocturnal existence. That meant no more sunrises, or sunsets, or for that matter blue Mediterranean waters.
Chasing the reflections
In May, I had the opportunity to explore parts of North West Victoria I’d never been, including Swan Hill. When looking for places to stay, I specifically chose to camp at Lake Boga rather than staying in Swan Hill. I thought it likely that the lake would have beautiful sunrise and sunset views, and if so I wanted to experience them.
And yes, the lake wasn’t that far from Swan Hill, so technically I probably could have got up early and driven there - but I knew that I wouldn’t do that. It was the right time to re-kindle the spark set on the Great Ocean Walk. I was trying to set up similar circumstances to the sunrises I’d seen and enjoyed.
Sunset proved a good test: I arrived just before sunset, and it was captivating. I was meant to be setting up my tent, but kept interrupting myself to admire the sunset and take pictures. And then, just for a change, I didn’t get to bed till after midnight.
When I got up, it was freezing cold, and it turned out I’d forgotten to bring my gloves (another good reason to move sunrises to noon 😉). But the view and the reflections were spectacular, and at least it was a bit warmer once the sun had actually risen.
I felt like I had the whole place to myself. Well, until I saw the stand-up paddleboarders, anyway:
But the beach was mine.
What did I do then? Well, I went back to my tent for a bit, of course. I went kayaking. I visited the museum (trivia: Lake Boga had been Australia’s main flying boat repair base during WW2). I explored Swan Hill. Then I returned to my tent in the evening.
Given it had been successful, it seemed worth trying a second morning. This time was a bit of a disappointment, but I knew I’d been lucky to get one wonderful sunrise. Would I have tried a second time if the first had been a wash out? Don’t know.
Another wonderful sunrise - at a sunset park
A few days later I was to be camping by Lake Crosbie in Murray-Sunset National Park. It was only a couple of hours from Mildura, and I’d intended to be there and have my tent set up before dark. However, once it became clear that I wasn’t going to achieve that, leaving Mildura lost urgency. There were still more things to see, and once sunset was approaching it made sense to avoid the potentially dangerous twilight driving hours.
In the end, I didn’t arrive till nearly 11PM. I could’ve set up my tent, but I was leaving the following day and it really didn’t seem worth it, so I slept in my car. It’s not the most comfortable, but it’s doable, and worth it if it saves having to set up a tent in the dark.
I was expecting to be able to see the sunrise. What I wasn’t really expecting was how early it would begin to get light. When I woke the sky was a dark blue, the stars were still out, and there was a cute little moon in the sky. But the light was growing in the east. So eventually I gave up on trying to return to sleep and instead captured it:
And then came the winter
That brought me to the end of autumn. I’d seen half a dozen sunrises, and none of them were in Melbourne.
By then the pattern had been established: So long as I was camping within easy walking distance of a promising spot, I could get up shortly before, admire whatever sunrise colours came my way, then if needed return to bed. The sunrises I saw were later than they would have been in summer, but much more likely to be cold.
Despite planning to rise early (while on holiday, no less!) I was still likely to have gone to bed after midnight. It wasn’t the conventional sunrise hunting, but it suited me, and that’s what really mattered…
With fresh Covid outbreaks, winter brought lockdowns that stretched well into spring. And lockdowns brought time for reading - including continuing with the Vampire Chronicles.
The Biblical promise
That then led me to the fourth book - The Tale of the Body Thief. In this one, the Vampire Lestat discovers how to become a man again (which isn’t really a spoiler since it’s strongly hinted from the very start of the book). This allowed him to explore (or perhaps rediscover?) the human condition in a way previous books didn’t. And in it was one passage that really tied sunrises and vampires together in my mind:
The light was awfully bright. Wonderfully bright. Thank God, a bright lamp in this murky world at last. I sat up. For a moment, I was too dazed to rationally acknowledge what I saw.
The sky in the tops of the windows was perfectly blue, vibrantly blue, and the sunlight was pouring in on the polished floor, and all the world appeared glorious in the brightness - the bare tree branches with their white trimming of snow, and the snow-covered roof opposite, and the room itself, full of whiteness and lustrous color, light glancing off the mirror, and the crystal glass on the dresser, off the brass knob of the bathroom door.
Mon Dieu, look at it, Mojo, I whispered, throwing back the covers and rushing to the window and shoving it all the way up. The cold air hit me, but what did it matter? Look at the deep color of the sky, look at the high white clouds traveling to the west, look at the rich and beautiful green of the tall pine tree in the neighboring yard.
Suddenly I was weeping uncontrollably, and coughing painfully once more.
This is the miracle, I whispered. Mojo nudged me, giving a little high-pitched moan. The mortal aches and pains didn’t matter. This was the biblical promise which had gone unfulfilled for two hundred years.
Sometimes there are passages in a book where I go “If that was the only thing I got from the book, it would have been worth reading it”. And this is one of those passages. It’s beautiful.
It even inspired me to poetry:
The day it dawns, beauteous and bright
While Lestat is condemned to stay in the night
Night for the vampire, minion of dread
I’ll pick blue sky and sunshine instead
I like the occasional night-time walk, but I’m a creature of daylight. For many years I’ve loved the twilight with animals more active and the chance of a beautiful sunset. Over the last year, I’ve been glad to add sunrises to the mix. Both of them give me experiences I treasure which are denied to the most ardent vampire.
Exit vampires, stage left
This isn’t the end of the story. After lockdown ended and we began to “live with Covid”, there was more chance to travel and see sunrises. There were more experiences (and an abundance of photos) that I’d love to share. I even saw a sunrise in Melbourne at the start of 2022.
And those later experiences may involve fluffy pink clouds and striking sunrise vistas and going to bed late but still rising early. They may involve a return to overnight hiking along the cliff-tops and above the crashing waves. There may even be penguins.
But this is where the vampires end. Those future recollections may include a Western Port monster, but as far as I know I encountered no more vampires. And I want to keep it that way: Most of the sunrises I’ve had in the last year I’ve been on my own, but if I wish to share a sunrise it will be with a human, not with a vampire.
Remembering a successful change
For now, though, I’m just remembering once more that time a year ago on the Great Ocean Walk. Getting up to see the sunrise hadn’t been part of the plan, but it seemed worth a try and it worked. An accident, if you will - but an accident that I chose to make part of future plans. And so it changed me, hopefully for the better.
I’m not really converted: I’m still a night person. I still see far more sunsets than sunrises. Much of this post may have been written in the not-so-early hours of several mornings, but I was in bed before sunrise this morning, and will be again tomorrow morning.
My job has never required me to get up early enough to see the sunrise, and I hope that won’t change. But being aware of sunrises adds variety and colour and joy to my holidays. It gives me stories and pictures to share, whether at noon or in the early (pre-sunrise 😉) hours of the morning.
More than that, seeking out the sunrise makes me feel alive - unlike the undead vampires I’ve written about. It makes me glad to be in the body I’m in, and to be able to make my own choices and to experience and explore the wonderful world I’m in. And yes, that body isn’t immortal, and nor is it perfect. As well as experiencing beauty and warmth, it’s also subject to cold and disappointment. But I hope these joys will long continue.