Byron Bay, how do I love thee? Let me count just three ways, though there are so many more.
1. Pristine beach 2. Gentle surf
3. Water temperature around 21 degrees Celsius.
This ocean swims' season I have endured Perfect Storm conditions at Mollymook, Antarctic conditions at Bondi (water temp of 16 degrees) and battled pounding surf during The Big Swim from Palm Beach to Whale Beach.
As far as I'm concerned, Byron Bay is the ultimate ocean swim.
My first experience of this 2.2 kilometre swim was last year when I did it with my friend Mrs Snorkel and youngest daughter Miss Hissy (she did the 800 metre event).
We had no preconceptions or expectations about Byron Bay or the event. But after two incredible fun-filled days and the perfect swim we were blown away and made a pact to return in 2009.
This year the swim team comprised Mr and Mrs Snorkel, my eldest daughter Petulant Princess (PP), who is a lapsed swimmer, and moi.
In the three days leading to the swim the weather was as moody as PP, and when I woke this morning at 7am it was rainy, chilly and didn't look like clearing.
After registering at the surf club at 8.30am we piled into one of the many buses that wound around the hillside to drop us at the starting point at Wategoes beach (haunt of the megarich -but not today).
Unlike other ocean swims, Winter Whales starts back-to-front, with the oldest competitors leaving first and the elite swimmers going last.
When the horn blew for my wave (45-49 year-old women) the sun peeked out from behind ominous clouds.
Another unique thing about the swim is that to reach the first buoy we had to first stride through the shallows, swim briefly across a deeper trough then struggle up and over another sandbank before finally hitting deep water. I was exhausted already!
But once I got into a rhythm the swim was a dream. The water was clear so I could see to the bottom all the way. Mrs Snorkel and PP later said they saw huge stingrays and schools of sand whiting.
My arms cut through the water like scissors through silk. It was that smooth and sensual.
Another wonderful thing about Winter Whales is the strong north-flowing current that gives you a helpful ride all the way along the beach. If the event was run in the opposite direction, from Byron to Wategoes, the powerful drag would keep swimmers like me glued to the spot.
The swim was over too soon. And now I'm back home contemplating another week of work and all those chores I left behind.
Reality sucks. As the ocean swims season drifts to a close, I can only dream of swims like Byron and plan for 2010.