Pyla Dune series: beyond all expectations

The Great Dune of Pyla - photo Naomi Edwards

The Great Dune of Pyla – photo Naomi Edwards

I hope you are sitting down cause Pyla Dune was off the hook! Here we go…

It’s been a few days since I saw Pyla Dune and I’m still on cloud dune. So, I’ll try my very best to help you grasp what I’m trying to grasp as I’ve been dune stunned, beyond all my very dune expectations.

To be honest, I only recently heard about the Great Dune of Pyla as a colleague of mine at Griffith Centre for Coastal Management gave me an information booklet about the geography of the dune. Due to my up-built excitement about my first euro-trip, after reading about Pyla Dune I had to check it out! If the Eiffel Tower made it onto my itinerary, Pyla Dune had to be a must see too [and now I can say at least I climbed Pyla Dune – see City to city: London to Paris].

Simply stated, Pyla Dune is Europe’s biggest dune and it beautifully deserves such a status. Though more technically, is a unique variable dune that is part of a much larger dune corridor (for those on the east of Australia where development dominates or is yet to dominate this dune corridor would blow your mind). As the area of coastal dunes I am referring forms part of the Arachon Bay region, and the larger dune corridor extends from Gironde to Biarritz – 8km wide and 230km long. Most of the area is covered by pine forest, which forms a “green triangle” between the lakes and shoreline. Though as for Dune Pyla, it’s moving canvas of sand – being bare, variable and live.

Within the Arachon Bay region there has been 1500 dunes identified with varied heights from 30-50m to over 100m. To give you a grand concept of the grand dune, Pyla Dune is actually 2.5km long, 500m wide and just over 100m high. That is a grainy volume of 125million3 of sand or 50K Olympic-sized swimming pools or 1.79 million truck loads of sand or 2million average children-sized sandpits. This sheer volume could make anyone along an erosion hotspot jealous!

In my opinion, thank god the French got it right a long time ago and listed the dune as a national treasure as a Grand Site of National Beauty back in the 1930s.

I am sure you are starting to get the gist that Pyla Dune is no ordinary dune – though what is an ordinary dune? More so, why is it so big!

Leaving such a question for another day, the formation of Pyla Dune is just as gob smacking unbelievable. Pyla Dune is a result from an accumulation of sand being trapped within the area by westerly winds over thousands of years. At least, for the last 3500 and more years, mountainous volumes of sand have accumulated, which secondarily moves the dune towards the forest.

The dune shows an “asymmetrical morphology with steep slopes to the East and gentle slopes windward to the West”. Radiocarbon testing and other history dating analysis has identified four distinct timeframes for the geological make-up. From the base to the summit, on days where there are lesser crowds, you can actually see the make-up of such sediment contours.

  1. The base of the dune is actually stratified soils consisting of upper layer sediments and peat. These soils are over 3500 years old, known as old podzol.
  2. The second stage of the make-up is 2-5m above sea level and contains dune palesols and diatoms.
  3. To 20m, the dune composes of other vegetative remains and siliceous fresh water diatoms (most likely from a surrounding lake).
  4. From 20-40m, the morphology is similar to the upper parabolic dune zone, though many treasures have been found including old bronze coins, shell fragments and a resin furnace. Mapping completed in 1863 found the upper part (at the time it was 80m), to have once been planted by pine forest to help stablise the dune and exploit the wood for industrial use. Though to the displacement and changes in the Arachon Bay region, between the late 1800s and early 1900s, over 500m was eroded. The dune is still developing and changing…

Given the variable nature of the dune, there are distinct management practices in place to stablise the foredune zone with the objective to protect the pine forest. Long-term research has indicated that Pyla Dune moves eastward at a rate from less than a meter to over 7 meters annually. This vast sand movement literally smoothers the pine forest at the back as for once dunes seem to be winning a battle, though, in this fight the forest of the Arachon Bay is being suffocated. Such movement also coincides with the ocean front erosion and plagues the complexities of dune-coastal management.

However, the attractiveness of Pyla Dune fosters a thriving dune tourism industry, which in effect supports its management. However, the intensity of foot traffic from tourists does come at a cost for the sustainability of the dune. There are currently discussions taking place to see if tourist numbers could be capped to help with the long-term sustainability of the dune.

I could share and ponder so much more. Until next time, I’m heading to bed to dream about Pyla Dune!

PS – I’ll have to upload a photo gallery soon to share the extent of the dune tourism in place, or might as well tangent about that.

Pyla Dune series: first impressions

It’s official! I’m not the only person on this planet crazy about dunes. The French take dunes to another level that’s for sure.

How do I know? I saw Pyla Dune today and it’s also official that I can at times be speechless. No words can really sum up my coastal thoughts about Pyla Dune in one tangent. So, I’ll let you in on what I am feeling at the moment by the photo gallery to get your coastal thoughts thinking.

First impressions for a series I am bound to tangent about.


City to city: London to Paris

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City to city sums up the last week and a bit. I have been traveling with my mother from London to Paris, and have just embarked on the next leg – Bordeaux to Sorrento. Having promised a travel update for those who are dying without a little bit of me back home, I have tried my best to condense the last 10 days. But hey, if you’re lucky enough and know me well, I am not the best at condensing stories. Why let time get in the way of a good story?

We have been zigzagging between the streets of London to Paris, Underground to Metro and countryside to seaside landscapes. Not to forget one bad coffee to the next, croissants and champagne, to odd hotel experiences and even had our underwear dry-cleaned. For two naïve Australians, I think we’ve been able to maintain our glamorous look. So, don’t you worry, we still have our priorities right.

Anyway, I’ll stop gas-bagging about nothing and actually give you a run down…

We jetted off on the 1st August and flew through China. An organised-unorganised stop over was an experience in itself. Firstly, we were turned down at the Chinese buffet and told to go to another level for the Western restaurant. So, our first meal away consisted of a mushroom soup and caesar salad – how very cultural of us

2nd August: The next leg was to London and it was a very long flight. I nearly got cankles (kind of) by the end of the flight (note to self not to wear my skinny jeans for the flight home). Anyway, once we landed in Heathrow airport we organised an Underground pass (Oyster card), and due to our ‘very good’ English the ticket lady was very helpful. Off to Paddington where we stayed in a classic Mew for a couple of days, which was just streets away from Hyde Park.

3rd August: After an early night we got up super early and hit Hyde Park for a little exercise or should I say mum watching me do my routine pushups and leg raisers (I am sure you get the picture). We spotted some squirrels, which mum seemed to be more excited than bumping into Prince Harry (haha – gotcha!). Anyway, we found a great café and had a reasonably good latte but more so scored on the organic yoghurt, muesli and fruit.

OK… to fasten up what we did next, we caught the open bus tour around the city to get the feel for where everything was, though, ended up in the middle of a 20,000 cyclist festival. To cool us down (due to the summer heat) we met up with my gorgeous cousin Lauren at The Worley’s for lunch. How very lady like of us! We then walked, walked and walked the streets and parks, and then found another café for dinner. Poor mum nearly fell asleep at dinner.

4th August: Next day consisted of missing the change of guard and every other London tourist attraction we were suppose to see. We dodged the lines at the Tower of London and instead took some happy snaps and enjoyed a soft serve. The River Thames was amazing, or rather the tour guide’s jokes. A real highlight of the day was scoring a vegan nut roast at a pub in Noting Hill and mass at St. Pauls.

Now, moving on to the 5th August, we caught the Great Western Train out to Moreton in Marsh (which every person along the way had no idea where that was). After not getting off the train at Oxford, we had to back track for a bit to get on the right connection (never trust Google journey planner!). Three and bit hours later we were in the middle of the Cotswold and met our pre-organised tour guide from Kooky Tours (yep, that is exactly how I found them online – a kooky tour of the Cotswold). Having no idea from Australia would to expect, I really didn’t expect that we’d end up having a private tour for a day and bit that comes with a luxury Audi! It was definitely an experience and the bed and breakfast was even better. Pure country luxury, which I am sure we could have just spent the next month out there. But hey, I was getting itchy feet for the coast.

6th August, back on the train and this time round it was all good and ended up in Brighton Beach smack bag on time. I was more so excited just to see a pebble beach and the regency architecture. We found a taxi and to our delight the driver told us that it was weird for our pre-booked bed and breakfast to be where it was – a council-housing apartment block! He wished us luck by telling us to be very careful and not to go out at night. Up to level 13 we went (I am definitely superstitious now) and found room 76. A lady called Bambi greeted us at the door and showed us to the room (her longue room!), then had to give her 20 quid for the key and then she disappeared leaving us in a state of what the hell. Scared to even sit on the longue, I opened the balcony door to see the sea view that was promised, only to have a nesting pigeon fly at me. Bambi then came out and said not to go out there and keep the door locked as someone could easily climb up the scaffolding and break in. The only bonus was the fast wifi to quickly organise alternative accommodation, which we upgraded to a king-size bed and a sea view. It’s a bummer that my experience of Brighton Beach (more so a pebble beach) started with dodging the syringes and bloodstains we saw in the apartment block – well, it really wasn’t that bad, as the shops and vegan cafés made up for it.

Talk about extreme experiences for the 7th August – waking up in Brighton Beach to walking around the streets of Paris in the middle of the night looking for accommodation. We had another odd hotel check in experience. This time round our keys weren’t where they were suppose to be, and being in Paris (after catching the Eurostar and first experience with a Romanian beggar) and now almost at midnight, we made the decision to find another hotel. Though, this time round we had no wif just our ambition to find another place. After six or so hotels with no vacancy and walking left, left, left and then right, right, right and up and down the alleyways of Opera, we found one! Our cute little room was all so very French! Plus, the room came with a mini bar so we popped a bottle of champagne to later find out that the price was 30 Euros. Considering it was almost 1am by this stage we didn’t care and ate the chocolate too!

8th August: Was spent sleeping in, organising our washing (hence our underwear getting dry cleaned), and experiencing a reasonably good espresso, though an amazing croissant! How very French of us! We caught up with Miss Jess Morcombe (my best friend) for lunch and did the decent walk up to summit of Montmartre to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Paris (Sacre`-Coeur). Incredible! After taking photos of Jess taking photos (she really is the best iPhone photographer around), we headed back to Moulin Rouge for a cocktail and caught up with her parents too. We then parted and hit the streets, though got lost, but hey, not to worry when in Paris, as everything truly is an experience. After a little rest, we refreshed ourselves to tackle the Metro at night and it was all good – though my mum got a bit freaked out at the beginning – so I just said, “play cool”. Anyway, we were on a mission to see the Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay and Eiffel Tower and on the way we had a pit stop for dinner (now convinced that you can be vegetarian while in France). Anyway, after a very, very, very, very long walk along The Seine, the bonus was unexpectedly seeing the Eiffel Tower glitter at midnight. Back to the Metro to get back to our hotel …

9th August: Time to get going after another sleep in, to see the must sees of Paris. Now being pros at the Metro and a tourist app that doesn’t need wifi/3G coverage, we self guided ourselves with the first stop at the Arc de Triomphe (another wow moment!). Next was the Eiffel Tower and due to everyone pre-warning us about pick pocket-ers, we were extremely careful with our bags and ignored all scams only to full asleep in the park for a bit. Rather than waiting forever to get a ticket and exert our energy and all expectations of looking down at other buildings, we dodged the line and as I said before, fell asleep in the park. Maybe next time I might make it up the Eiffel Tower? We then walked the streets, had the worse coffee ever, ate a massive baguette and ended up at the gallery shops to cool down (another espresso in between to make up for the horrible café before). O, and in between all that were more excited to randomly see the UNESCO building, an old orange Fiat and the many flowerpots and fountains. Considering this was going to be our last full day in Paris we did have every intention to see everything else, but hey, we are on holidays. It all worked out for the best and instead of heading to the Moulin Rogue for dinner, we ate at a local restaurant only to experience the best Rose`, risotto, vegetables and citrus tart (mum had the salmon and apparently that was amazing too!!!!). Back to the hotel, took some funny photos and then literally passed out after I posted yet another tangent (I’ve been on fire ATM). I actually forgot to highlight that we experienced our first chocolate croissant (which those bakers at Bakers Delight at home really need to come here and experience and understand that they are ruining everything about French pastry) – that might be a good thing for our waste lines back home.

10th August: We had high expectations of getting up early to get back to the shops and see the Lourve, though we slept in again! All good – yes, you guessed it if you are actually reading this entire tangent – we are on holidays. Though no sooner after hitting snooze, we did get up and organised our bags, reconfirmed our next lot of hotels, etc… and headed to the Lourve (missed the shops – though the Lourve had shops so that was all good as I never thought I’d in Paris with my mum, let alone not buy anything). After an espresso and croissant we headed to the Lourve, and really no words can describe what we saw so I won’t even bother. Moving on, we rushed back to the hotel to collect our bags to then back tracked across city with our bags and well, mums suitcase too. We now have it down pat – I have my rucksack on my back and then carry mum’s suitcase up and down the stairs… so bring on any pastries. We got to the station too early, hence this drawn out tangent.

As the battery is just about to die, I’ll leave it here and finish off yet another baguette, make a dent in a book I am reading and stare at the most gorgeous Frenchman that is sitting opposite me. We are now on the TGV (the super fast train) to get to Bordeaux and not experience the wineries, but Europe’s biggest sand dune! That’ll fix up my dune drought… a pilgrimage to Pyla Dune.