Packed with snorkellers, kayakers and families, there was little to give away on Sunday that the Quobba Blowholes harboured a dark secret.
For seven days, the holiday destination was a crime scene.
It was closed off to the public as holidaymakers were replaced by police officers and SES volunteers, desperately searching for any sign of missing four-year-old Cleo Smith who police believe was snatched from her tent in the dead of night.
But on Friday, the search was called off and the roadblocks lifted.
Tourists and locals trickled back in across the weekend until on Sunday it was once again teeming with life, as beachgoers camped out and enjoyed the spring sunshine.
Not far from where Cleo was last seen, children played in the water under the sharp gaze of their parents.
But an electronic sign reading “Have you seen Cleo?” provided a grim backdrop to the family frivolity.
A handful of the four-wheel-drives and campervans parked along the cliffside bore bumper stickers stamped with Cleo’s face alongside the words “Missing child”.
One local who goes to the Blowholes “almost every weekend” said the destination would be forever tarnished by the stain left by the bright and bubbly little girl’s suspected abduction.
“If I didn’t get back to the (Blowholes) now, then I would never have had the guts to come back,” the man, who wanted to remain unidentified out of respect for the family, said.
“Something like this sticks in a small town, especially when you know the family and know the child. Life moves on for us and everyone else, but that family has to live with their pain every day.”
The 54-year-old said Carnarvon wouldn’t give up searching for Cleo until they found out what happened to her.
Another woman agreed it was important to reclaim the Blowholes in her mind as a family destination.
“I’m here today because I don’t want this place to become tainted with that bad memory. I come here all the time with my kids,” she said.
The woman implored people not to forget Cleo.
“It just needs all the attention it can get. It can’t drop off because once people stop seeing it, they forget about it.
“I’m praying she is found safe, and I’m praying that people won’t stop talking about it.”
By about 4pm, numbers had dwindled to just a handful enjoying the last rays of summer sunshine.
One man who was at the campground the night Cleo was taken said he didn’t hear or see anything when she was snatched.
Campgrounds caretaker Brett Kilgallon, who has lived in a shack there for years, said the first thing he did when he heard she was missing at 8am was jump on his quad bike and start searching for the four-year-old.
Mr Kilgallon, left, said he knows the area “like the back of my hand” and believes Cleo would have been found already if she had wandered off.
“A four-year-old kid picking up a sleeping bag, opening its tent and walking away early in the morning — not much of a chance of that happening,” he said.
He prays for the safe return of little Cleo and hopes money isn’t the driving factor for someone to come forward.
“We want young Cleo back. All of us want her back, that’s the priority.
“If it’s money, it’s greed. Money shouldn’t be coming into this — we are looking for a four-year-old girl,” he said.
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