IT’S the sweep of Port Stephens sand where Lara Bingle beamed an invitation to the world – so where the bloody hell is it?
A battery of rough seas has washed away Fingal Spit and, says local outdoorsman and author John “Stinker” Clarke, it could take years for the shifting sand bridge to Fingal Island to rebuild itself.
“When it’s gone, it could be gone for years,” Mr Clarke said.
“It all depends on the prevailing conditions.”
The Hunter coast’s most obvious casualty in this month’s storm was the Sygna shipwreck off Stockton, but Fingal locals have noted the loss of the photogenic spit.
National Parks and Wildlife Service Hunter coast manager Andrew Bond said the popular crossing to Port Stephens lighthouse on Fingal Island spit was now “impassible”.
“I would expect that it will come back, though,” Mr Bond said.
The service has warned that access to the island should be by boat, “until further notice”.
While Mr Clarke said he had both crossed the spit by truck and sailed it by boat over more than 40 years, the latest erosion has left the tidal sandbar underwater even at low tide.
Despite often seeming like a sturdy platform for the two kilometre walk and swim from mainland to lighthouse, the spit is surrounded by deep channels and exposed to currents and sudden waves that have killed 15 people since the 1890s.
“There’s always that lure to get across to the island, but you go through and the water rushes through like a rapid and knocks you off your feet,” Mr Clarke said.
“It’s alive, untamed and dangerous.”
In November 2013, a Sydney man was swept away and drowned while trying to wade across the notorious formation.
On a more benign day in 2006, the spit set the scene for model Lara Bingle to front an ultimately divisive Tourism Australia campaign with the tagline, “So where the bloody hell are you?”
Recently, the Fingal Spit has become a popular place to “check in” for users of social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
The spit is thought to have formed in the “Maitland Gales” of the 1890s, when pounding swells tore apart a thin spine of vegetation.
At low tide it can be powder dry and sit well above the water, but it can also languish three metres deep and disappear altogether for years at a time.
Anyone who tries to cross in more than knee-deep water is risking their life, Mr Clarke said.
“On a good day it’s a beautiful place,” he said.
“But it’s got to be treated with the greatest respect.”