A Café by the Sea

The sun is up and the early morning swimmers are trudging up the beach, damp and dripping, to gather for coffee on the veranda at the Normanville Kiosk & Café. In dribs and drabs, the dawn patrol of dog walkers follow them in. Later, as the sea begins to glitter in the morning sun, a stream of beach walkers from Carrickalinga arrive. By ten o’clock, the café is awash with swimmers, walkers, families, and exhausted puppies dozing under the tables.

The café has been here for years and is something of a local icon. Casual and comfortable, it provides a view to the south along the worn cliffs beyond Lady Bay, and north over the sand dunes to Carrickalinga. And of course, there’s usually a fisherman or two on the jetty.

It also provides good coffee and tasty meals of sumptuous proportions.

We sat on the veranda for dinner last night as the sun set into the sea, turning the sparse clouds a glorious shade of peach. This morning I am back for morning tea, as the One & Only marches off down the beach to infinity and beyond.

Last night, on the lawn in front of the café, there was a guy with a guitar and small groups of picnickers. Others climbed the wooden staircase to the bar above the surf lifesaving club. Everything is a bit tatty, a bit weather worn, but that is half its appeal. Normanville has never been a destination for the flashy city slickers. It’s a family beach where children can paddle in the gentle surf and build sandcastles, where dogs frolic gleefully, and horses appear occasionally to gallop along the sand or take a sedate dip in the sea.

I adore this haven by the sea. It warms the cockles of my heart to sit out on the veranda with a coffee, a sea breeze and the sound of the waves and giggling kids washing up from the beach. Last summer, a new ‘container’ kiosk was set up on the side of the building last summer and it is great for a quick fix of takeaway fish‘n’chips, an icecream or a coffee. Picnic tables are set up in the sandpit outside and there is something incredibly soothing about eating with sand between your toes.

The café is open seven days a week, 8am – 4pm, except on weekends when it stays open until 8pm – at least in the summer. I have generally found the food tasty, the coffee hot and the service friendly. There are vegetarian and gluten free options, but otherwise I can highly recommend the fish’n’chips and the red velvet cake, the likes of which I haven’t tasted since we lived in the Philippines.

It can be busy, and service may be slow – but if you’re on holidays, does that really matter? Certainly, far from the hustle and bustle of city living, I am in no hurry.

Sadly, the café has recently been dealt a potential death blow, as the council seek approval to rebuild the Surf Life Saving Club, against the oft-expressed wishes of many locals, including the current café owners.
According to the 2020 council report, the Council committed to the future allocation of $1,600,000 for the rebuilding of the Normanville Café/Kiosk and target grant funding opportunities for the spend. [and that]… the rebuilding of the Surf Club and Kiosk be a combined building and subject to a design brief to be agreed upon by the full Council.

Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? A better designed, brand new building with all the mod cons? But word on the street is less optimistic. The kiosk owners understand that the new design will be a ‘glass castle’ which will limit their space and the customers access by putting the cafe upstairs behind huge plate glass, with only one lift. We will lose the veranda and probably the easy-going joie-de-vivre of the generous space below. How will that better serve the customers, especially the elderly and the disabled, the mums-with-prams and the pets, all of whom so enjoy the open air veranda every day? Is the Yankalilla Council truly going to swim against the tide and insist upon investing millions in a project over which so many locals are baulking? And how can they allocate such enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars to redevelopment, and yet struggle to ensure the bins are emptied daily during the summer season, when we are flooded with holiday makers? The debate has been raging for months, and yet conclusions are thin on the ground. It is limbo land out there.

For my money, I love the down-to-earth, mixed demographic we find here. And with the best intentions in the world to develop tourism and capture more of the leisure market, the council doesn’t seem to appreciate how many of us feel about the current lack of fuss on the Normanville foreshore. Its old-fashioned simplicity is a joy to behold, with its bucket-and-spade beach and user-friendly, open-air café. Sure, the surf lifesaving club could do with an overhaul, but perhaps a lick of paint and some new equipment would do the job? The café owners certainly believe so and are more than happy to renovate the café at their own cost.

So, do we really need the designer glass house the council has promised us? And who would actually benefit from such a lavish make-over, other than city visitors? Not the local community, it seems, who didn’t move here to recreate a Somerton or Semaphore on the Fleurieu. We love the ambiance of our more rural and cosy setting, the warm welcome and the family-friendly space. Sadly, the new café and lifesaving club looks set to pack us behind glass so we can sit in a microwave oven and look out at the world, instead of being in it. Here’s hoping the Council are listening, and will see fit to adapt their plans a little…

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