Saturday, October 22, 2005


The smell of water

In New Zealand it would never occur to me to smell for rain, mostly because in New Zealand there's always water around, rain or not. Here in Australia I've gotten quite into the habit of having a sniff for incoming rain, and it's usually possible to smell it before you see it. I find still this quite an interesting novelty...

This was something I experienced in a more startling way last year, when I helped out a friend on a field-trip to North Queensland. We travelled up the inland route (to be said in broad Strine, as in "thin land root"). Basically, if you look at a map of Australia and draw a straight line up from Sydney to Cairns, you'll see the way we went. This route cuts quite a long way inland, including going inland of all the coastal hills, mountains and plateau type things. As a consequence most of the country is rather dry, to put it mildly.

When we came back to the coast we pretty much cut around the corner of some hills and straight down to the coast road. The smell of the sea was amazing -- salt, iodine and water, totally immediate and unmistakable. You couldn't fail to notice it after a week having your nose dried out and smelling mostly dust and dry grass. It was probably the first time in my life I've been far enough from the sea (or at least, large bodies of water) to come back to it as something startling and fresh. We wound down the windows and breathed it in like we were driving through a field of flowers.

Coming from Christchurch I've always nosed for rain - at least in summer when you can really smell it coming (in autumn/winter/spring it's always bloody raining so if you sniff for it you're likely to drown..), and I've noticed the same thing here (Seednee) too.

Although it has to be said that often as not the scent of rain isn't actually followed by appreciable quantities of said precipitation.. The climate here is a tease.
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