Ever since a child, I've dreamt of a white Christmas. You know, just like the song in which Irving Berlin reminisces about an old-fashioned Christmas, complete with sleigh bells ringing in the snow and carols sung beneath glistening fir trees.
While the charms of a northern hemisphere Christmas may have to wait until all my numbers come up in Saturday night Lotto, earlier this week I set off for a white Christmas of a more antipodean kind, to the beautiful beaches of Jervis Bay.
For decades Hyams Beach near Huskisson, has lay claim to the whitest sand in Australia, (if not the world), but with a spectacular sweep of 17 other white sand beaches spread around the shores of the bay, I've always been sceptical whether or not Hyams really is the whitest. So in a brazen attempt to find the whitest sand of Jervis Bay it's with all the zest of the late Julius Sumner Miller and the daring of Yahoo Serious's Young Einstein that I load up the Yowie Mobile for my coastal quest.
Along with a rack of test tubes to fill with sand from each white beach, I've crammed every white item I can find into my duffle bag, including a brand new white bath towel (sorry Mrs Yowie), my frayed high school science labcoat and a pair of bright white swimming trunks (OK, I admit I bought those especially for the trip). Heck, I've even swapped my trusty Akubra for a nerdy white cap.
If I'm going to collect a vial of sand from 18 beaches in two days, I'm going to have to move quickly, so after checking into my overnight digs, a delightful renovated cottage (white, of course) in Huskisson, I make a beeline to the start of the little-known White Sands Walk which links a number of idyllic beaches on the southern shores of Jervis Bay.
However, just minutes into the stroll, and just as the track emerges from a lush gully and onto the blinding white sands of Nelsons Beach, I realise my sunglasses are back in Canberra on the kitchen table - a monumental blunder when you are about to spend two days treading the whitest sands in the country under a searing summer sun.
Not to be deterred from the truth-seeking task at hand and squinting like a bag of nails to avoid the glare, I scoop a random teaspoon of sand into the test tube marked 'Nelsons' before returning to the welcome shade of the path.
Tucked beneath 20-metre high cliffs, my next stop is the aptly-named Secret Beach.
Not only is this small stretch of sand easily missed, I'd been warned that apparently clothing here is optional. Not wanting to expose any more flesh than my bare legs, lily white from a long Canberra winter, leaving my trunks tightly tied-up around my waist, and much to the mirth of several beachgoers sunbaking au naturel, I hastily collect the required grains of sand and without looking back, scurry back onto the path leading south.
After stopping for maples at Greenfield and Chinamans beaches, eventually I reach the white powder soft sand of Hyams Beach. In desperate need of a refreshment, at the uber-trendy Hyams Beach Store & Café I order a flat white (what else!) and pore over my samples. The sight of test tubes labelled with the sands of rival beaches sparks the interest of my inquisitive waitress.
"Everyone comes to Hyams for the white sand," she asserts, nervously eyeing off the vials of competing sand.
"For some reason they had to take the sign down in 2014 that said Hyams had the whitest in the world," she laments. "But Hyams still holds the record of the whitest sand in the Australia, the CSIRO even say so."
With the sun dipping low in the sky, I retrace my steps along the White Sands Walk, stopping at each beach for a dip. Divine! Science was never this fun at school.
Still a bit peckish, conspicuous in my labcoat while lining up at Huskisson's 'World Famous' fish 'n' chip eatery one cheeky teenager has the audacity to ask, "so where's the fancy dress party, doc?"
I take my fried feed up to the town's White Sands Park, which perched atop a grassy knoll commands a great view of the mouth where Currambene Creek flows into the bay. While my whiting (what else!) fails to live up to the fish shop's somewhat boastful name, a flock of seagulls think otherwise, and fervently devour every last morsel.
Next morning, with more than half the beaches still to sample before sunset, I decide I need to pick up the pace and go in search of some wheels. The perplexed lass at the local bike hire shop advises, "sorry, men's bikes don't come in white", so it's on a "ladies cruiser", complete with basket and resplendent in white from head to toe, resembling something like a mobile billboard for Napisan, that I pedal off on day two of my quest.
The beaches close to Huskisson and Vincentia are on my hit list today, and in less than two-hours my basket is laden with sand-filled test tubes labelled Shark Net Beach (which curiously has no net), Moona Moona, Collingwood, Orion and Barfleur, but it's a return visit to Nelsons Beach which has me cursing about my sunnies again. Its long cliffs, stained in red iron oxide provide a stark contrast against to the blindingly bright sand.
After lunch, I up the ante even further and swap pedal power for a motor by hopping on one of the dolphin cruise of the bay. "Even if we can't find any dolphins today, we have great sailing conditions to view some far-flung white sand beaches," crackles the voice of skipper John over the (white – really!) catamaran's speakers.
He's right. Hidden along the protected northern shores of the bay are a string of stunning beaches, including Honeymoon Bay, a perfectly wineglass shaped white sandy beach with an ocean entrance just a few metres across. Unfortunately I can't jump overboard to collect a sample, because to the delight of fellow passengers, John has just spotted a pod of dolphins off the starboard side.
"Looks like there are eight in this pod," remarks John, hesitating a few moments before exclaiming, "and Casper the albino is amongst them!" To the chorus of camera shutters and 'oohs and ahhs' all the passengers lean over the starboard side pointing at Casper. It's a wonder the boat doesn't topple over. I snap the obligatory photo and in doing so add a white dolphin to my expanding list of critters so far spotted today, which includes pelicans and the magnificent white bellied sea eagle. You don't realise how many white creatures are in the landscape until you actually look for them.
Back at the wharf, with the sun sinking low in the western sky, its judgment time. Over two days, I've collected samples from a dozen beaches; not a bad effort. Just up the hill from the wharf is the landmark Huski Pub, where, while searching for a white-coloured cocktail on the drinks menu, I line-up my cache of sand-filled test tubes along the bar.
"They all look the same," is the most common response from other patrons, many interrupting their own sundowners to pass judgement on the white sands.
"But where's the other six samples?" asks one local, obviously knowledgeable about the bay's exact number of white beaches.
I have to agree. It's hardly a comprehensive study unless sand from all 18 contenders is compared.
Does this mean another summer adventure to the beautiful beaches of Jervis Bay? Oh well, I guess someone has to do it. All in the name of science, of course.
I just hope that before my return visit the big man in the red suit brings me a new pair of sunnies.
Drive: Huskisson, the 'unofficial' water-side capital of Jervis Bay, is about a 2.5 hour drive from Canberra via Nerriga or 3-hours' drive via Moss Vale.
Walk: The spectacular 'White Sands' coastal track connects Nelsons Beach in the north to Hyams Beach in the south via a network of boardwalks, viewing platforms, bush tracks, and of course crescents of bright white sand. One of the best short coastal walks in Australia. Allow two hours return (without stops).
Stay: I bunked a down at the quaint and comfy two-bedroom Huski Cottage (from $229 per night) near the centre of town. However if you want to live it up or for a special occasion, you'd be hard-pressed beating arguably the bay's most luxurious holiday homes, 'The White House' (from $474 per night) overlooking the white sands of Collingwood Beach.
Eat: Hyams Beach Store & Café. 76 Cyrus Street. A laidback village hangout that can be very busy in peak times. Open 7 days. hyamsbeachcafe.com.au or Ph: 02 4443 3874.
Cruise: 90-minute Dolphin Watch Cruises. Daily from $35 per person. No guarantees that you'll see Casper though. dolphinwatch.com.au or Ph: 02 4441 6311.
White Christmas Treat: Hyams Beach Hampers have a range of white gift boxes bulging with local produce including white chocolate from the Berry Chocolatier and sparkling white wine from Two Figs Winery. More: www.hyamsbeachhampers.com.au
Did You Know? Jervis Bay's white sand is the result of thousands of years of repeated wave action depositing grains of white quartz on the shore. As no major rivers or industry deposit silt and minerals into the bay, the sand remains predominantly a bright white colour.
Note: Without appropriate permissions it is an offence to take sand (with the exception, of course, of grains wedged between the toes or stowed away in the belly button!) from beaches, including those in a national park. Even sands collected for scientific analysis are returned to their beach of origin.
WHERE ON THE SOUTH COAST?
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Chris Longhurst, of Jerrabomberra, who was first to correctly identify last week's photo as 'Tilly's Beach' at Barrenjoey Peninsula, Lake Burley Griffin, which is located just across the water from the Governor General's wharf (hence the clue about Her Majesty's seal of approval). Longhurst just beat Stephen Rouch, of O'Connor, Martin Kenseley, of Rivett, and Peter Lee, of Spence, to the penultimate prize for 2016.
The photo was sent in by Sue Liebke, of Stirling, who, like many other readers, wonders "who was Tilly?"
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday December 24, 2016, with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.