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Mission Beach: Let’s Jump Out of a Plane

Mission Beach: Let’s Jump Out of a Plane

Welcome to the Jungle

Next on our East Coast trip was Mission Beach. A stretch of beach where the Rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. Most popular among backpackers for sky diving – the only place along the East Coast where you are guaranteed to land on the beach.

With that in mind, we had booked our sky dives for the morning after we arrived in Mission Beach. On our first night, we headed straight to the hostel. Having not looked into any of the hostels we’d booked we had no idea what we would be walking into. As it happens ‘Jackaroo’ can be found in the middle of the rainforest, a fairly long drive from the nearest town. Hosting spiders, frogs, mosquitos and other exotic animals alongside a steady flow of backpackers. We met up with our friends (who weren’t too happy about our hostel recommendation) and made a big pot of pasta. We spent more time swatting flies away from our food than we did eating it.

After dinner, we decided to explore the hostel grounds. With our phone flashlights on, we headed into the rainforest in search of spiders, bats, and frogs. We were not disappointed and met loads of native Australian creepy crawlies. When the boys started poking the web of a huge spider I decided it was time to head back to the relative safety of the hostel lobby. Seeing as we had our alarm set for 5 am we decided to try and have an early night, despite the constant background noise of buzzing insects.

Sky Dive Day

Morning came around and I woke up a strange combination of excited and terrified. My first problem; what do you wear to jump out of a plane?! After finding something that seemed appropriate we went and waited to be picked up by the mini van to take us to the Skydive Australia office. Once we had signed our lives away, been paired with an instructor and got the equipment sorted we were sent on another bus to meet the plane. On this journey, we got to see a wild Cassowary holding up traffic in the middle of the road. These endangered species are a rare sighting in the wild despite being more common in the North of Australia.

We eventually reached the small airfield where our plane was waiting to take us 14,000ft into the sky. The plane seemed far too small and lacking in seats to fit all of us along with our instructors inside.

Lets jump out of a planelets jump out of a plane
It turns out we had to sit on the floor of the plane. I ended up being the last to get in; putting me just centimetres away from the plastic sheet which functioned as the plane door. As we made our ascent my instructor would occasionally open the door and stick his head out to see the view. Luckily I was more excited than scared and in awe of the view below.

lets jump out of a plane

lets jump out of a plane

Time to Jump

As we reached a point which I thought must be close to 14,000 ft our pilot declared the half way point to our jumping spot. But somehow I was still less nervous and more excited about throwing myself out of a plane. Eventually, it was time to jump. From the moment we had booked the skydive I was sure I wanted to be the first to jump, not wanting to see everyone before me fall from the plane. Luckily, as I was the last person on the plane it also meant I would be the first person off.

With my harness secured and my instructor saying his final words of encouragement, I sat with my legs hanging out of the plane. Before I could even think about it, we were freefalling. After what felt like seconds the parachute opened and we were momentarily pulled back up. The rest of the sky dive was spent gently drifting back down to Earth. Admiring the view of the Great Barrier Reef below and taking in the unbelievable silence that surrounded us.

lets jump out of a planelets jump out of a planelets jump out of a planelets jump out of a planelets jump out of a plane
Not long after I successfully landed on the beach Sam’s sky dive also came to an end. Although I felt absolutely fine free falling from a plane I felt a huge adrenaline rush when I reached solid ground. I was thankful to be able to sit down soon after.

Later that day it was our friends turn to do their jump. By this time we had gone back to the hostel to chill on the hammocks and have some lunch. That afternoon, we all reunited in the hostel before our friends caught their greyhound up to Cairns. We had one more night in the jungle before our final Greyhound journey to Cairns. Our last evening in Mission Beach was very chilled, we sat outside watching the sunset as the creepy crawlies came out to play. We called it a night when a gecko climbed up Sam’s leg; retreating to the safety of our dorm room.

Magnetic Island: The Tropical Paradise

Magnetic Island: The Tropical Paradise

From Airlie Beach, we arrived at Townsville. Unfortunately, we had no time to discover this tropical town and instead caught the ferry straight to Magnetic Island. The island was supposedly named after Captain Cook’s compass broke when he passed by on his journey up the East Coast.

The short ferry trip brought us to Magnetic Island in the early evening. Having not eaten that day we were starving. We quickly made our way to the X-Base Hostel which was more like a tropical resort. The dorms were wooden huts on stilts just metres from the ocean. There was a huge bar area parallel to the beach as well as a pool. This was definitely my favourite hostel out of the ones we stayed in. After checking into the hostel we got talking to the other people in our room. There was a boy that I recognised from back home and it turns out we used to work together in Southampton, England and just so happened to be staying in the same hostel room on the other side of the World!

Magnetic Island HostelMagnetic Island Hostel
After a brief chat and catch up we walked to the shops before the hostel started serving food. That night we had pizza and enjoyed our free cocktails (which were more like juice than alcohol but you can’t turn down a freebie) and some happy hour drinks. Our first night on Magnetic Island was pretty dead as the full moon party was the previous night and everyone on the island seemed to be recovering.

Island Explorers

The next morning we hadn’t made any plans but decided to wake up early and enjoy our free breakfast while overlooking the beautiful ocean. We noticed one of our friends from Fraser Island and got talking to him. He mentioned an aquarium which he’d seen advertised as something to do on the island so we made plans to pay it a visit.

With no idea what to expect from this unknown aquarium, we started walking roughly in the right direction. We eventually reached the aquarium. Much to our disappointment it was better described as a few poorly maintained fish tanks in someone’s back garden with dead coral and a couple of sad looking fish.

Magnetic Island’s Koala Village

After that failure, we were determined to see some of the Island. We made our way to Bungalow Bay Koala Village which was home to a wildlife park. We paid a $29 entrance fee which gave us the chance to see lots of Australian native species and even hold some of them. For an extra $18 you can choose to hold a koala. Magnetic Island is the only island in Australia which has it’s own Wildlife park, giving you another excuse to check this place out.

In the wildlife park, we got to see and hold baby crocodiles, meet cockatoos and lizards and koalas. The highlight of the park was when a wild koala with a baby koala on her back climbed the trees into the park. Everyone lost interest in the park’s koalas and turned their attention and cameras to this proud mummy baby duo. There was also a huge spider which had made the wildlife park it’s permanent home.

Magnetic Island Wildlife ParkMagnetic Island Wildlife ParkMagnetic Island Wildlife ParkMagnetic Island Wildlife ParkMagnetic Island Wildlife Park

After meeting all the animals it was time for those who had paid extra to hug a koala and get their classic Australia pictures. From the wildlife park, we walked to the nearby beach – Horseshoe Bay. By now it was getting close to evening and our friends were on the Island waiting to meet up with us. After a short time on the beach, we got the bus back to the hostel.

Wine Time

That evening we were a group of six and all keen on having a few drinks. The bar staff announced that it was happy hour and bottles of wine were just $15. We decided to make the most of it and bought 3 bottles to start with. As the evening went on the bar staff kept announcing the end of happy hour, so we kept going up for a ‘final’ bottle. By the end of the night, our table was full of empty bottles of wine, we were all very drunk and playing drinking games on the beach. We eventually called it a night, the following morning we were supposed to be getting up early and renting 4×4’s to explore the West side of the island.

Bad Planning

Having planned to rent a 4×4 for days before reaching the island we excitedly woke up and went to book our car. The following day people had said that as long as you book before midday there would be no problem getting a 4×4. Unfortunately for us all of the cars were sold out by 9 am.  The receptionist suggested getting a bus pass instead which would only cost $7 each. Reluctantly we agreed and headed for the bus stop. We also got a big bag of carrots to feed the local rock wallabies near Geoffrey Bay which was the first stop on our Magnetic Island bus trip.

We arrived at Geoffrey Bay in the morning and walked the short journey to the smooth rocky home of the wild wallabies. The best time to see the wallabies is at sunset where they all come out in force for their dinner. However, we did manage to see quite a few peeping through the rocks. Including some babies in their mummy’s pouches!

The Forts Walk

Next on our bus trip was the Forts Walk. A hike which takes you high into the bush with incredible views. There is also the chance to spot koalas and see some fort remains from World War 2. We got our timing slightly wrong and ended up doing this 4km walk in the midday heat. However, we still managed to see 3 wild koalas and scramble our way onto the rocks to get some amazing views of the island. The forts were slightly less impressive than I expected but overall it was worth the hike. A personal highlight was spending almost 20 minutes clambering onto a big rock with an impressive view to try and get a group photo.

Magnetic Island Forts WalkMagnetic Island Forts WalkMagnetic Island Forts Walk

Palm Trees and Wallabies

Our next bus journey took us to Horseshoe Bay. We decided to spend some time here while waiting for dusk when we would try and befriend the Wallabies for the second time.  Whilst chilling on the beach I found a wonky palm tree and thought it would be fun to attempt climbing it. Somehow I managed to get the highest and am now considering a career in coconut collecting.

Magnetic Island Palm Tree
Eventually, the sun started to drop so we hopped on the bus back to Geoffrey Bay. Within minutes of arriving and opening the slightly warm bag of carrots, furry friends precariously approached us from all angles. We sat down, surrounded ourselves with carrots and waited as the wallabies hopped around us. This was definitely a highlight from my time in Magnetic Island, and it all it cost was the price of a bag of carrots and a bus ticket!

Magnetic Island WallabiesMagnetic Island WallabiesMagnetic Island Wallabies

Boozy Bingo

For our final night on Maggie Island, we joined in with the hostel’s game of boozy bingo. This follows the same rules as generic bingo but with the addition of drinking and doing challenges. We had decided to have a more chilled night so we didn’t end up doing too well. It was still a lot of fun and a good way to spend our last night on the island.

The next day we stayed in the hostel ready for our midday ferry. This docked at Townsville where our coach would take us to Mission Beach.

 

Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays

Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays

The two main tourist attractions when travelling up the East Coast are arguably Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. It was the Whitsundays which brought us to our next stop; Airlie Beach. Our coach arrived around 6 am after a long journey from Agnes Waters. We would be boarding our boat and starting our tour later that day. We went to check our backpacks into the hostel seeing as we had about 6 hours to kill before heading towards paradise. Our boat only allowed us to take a small bag for the 2 nights. We left our main bags in the hostel storage and kept our prepacked rucksacks with us ready to set sail. We found an outdoor bar to sit and watch the Olympics until the time came to start our adventure.

Whitehaven Beach has been voted the best beach in Australia as well as in the World. Therefore, it is definitely a destination for the bucket list. Known for its turquoise water and pristine white sand, Whitehaven Beach truly is paradise. The tour company which would be taking us around the 74 islands was called ‘Sailing Whitsundays‘. Our tour featured a 2-day, 2-night sailing trip where we would be sleeping on board the boat ‘Boomerang’. Despite there being so many tours to chose from we liked the sound of living onboard the boat. It was a proper sailing boat, where the guests could choose to help sail between stops. This also meant that it was a lot faster than some of the other boats and a lot of fun in the windy conditions.

Setting Sail

The weather for our tour wasn’t very good. With strong winds, grey skies and rain. However, due to the nature of the sailing boat, it added an entirely different experience. Instead of a gentle journey into the islands, we almost flew across the water. Hanging on to the railing tightly with our legs over the side of the boat as the other side travelled almost perpendicular to the water. As I looked over my shoulder I could see the ocean below me. Sea water sprayed up from the boat, drenching all of us more than the rain was. We were told by the Captain that it was the fastest he’d ever sailed the Boomerang before.

Our first stop was to a sheltered bay, by this time it was getting late so we stayed on the boat and got to know the other people on board. We had dinner and some goon before going to bed ready for our first full day exploring paradise. Our beds on the boat were very basic, more like a shelf. Every time I went to sit up I would hit my head on the ceiling which was only a few inches from my face when laid down. Also, it rained throughout the night and a small window next to the bed had been left open, covering us in rain and sea spray during the night.

Whitehaven Beach

The following morning we were woken up at 7 am, our breakfast already made and set up for us. After peanut butter and coffee I was ready to set sail and discover our first stop. Our first sail of the day would take us to Whitehaven Beach; the famous postcard-worthy beach of my dreams. As we skimmed across the ocean we saw our first glimpse of blue sky since setting sail from Airlie Beach.

We stopped just off the shore and got a motorboat to the Island. From here we had to go on a short bush walk to reach the popular viewpoint. On a clear day, this is the perfect spot to watch the crystal clear turquoise water constantly move and change shade. Unfortunately, our view wasn’t quite so spectacular, hindered by the layer of grey clouds blocking the sun. After getting our pictures and group shots we carried on down to the beach itself.

The sand is the purest you will ever find in the World. With 99% silicone content it was so soft and white, the only time sand from this beach was allowed to be taken was for the Hubble telescope. We marvelled at the setting, swimming in the sea while looking out for jellyfish, stingrays and lemon sharks. The crew on our boat also told us of the sand’s exfoliating qualities so some of us sat scrubbing ourselves with the sand on the edge of the water.

Whitsundays, Whitehaven Beach

Whitsundays, Whitehaven Beach

Snorkelling in the Whitsundays

After around an hour, we headed back to the boat. From here we moved on to another bay called the ‘fishbowl’. This was a popular spot for snorkelling with shallow healthy reefs boasting lots of colourful fish and coral. The Great Barrier Reef goes as far South as Bundaberg meaning this underwater ecosystem is part of the GBR. We spent about an hour chasing colourful fish, finding Nemo and admiring our first glimpse of one of the World’s natural wonders.

Then we got back on the boat for lunch; we definitely didn’t go hungry the whole time we were on the boat! After eating more than enough food we were given the option to either go in for a second snorkel or sail onto our next stop where we would be sleeping that night. Not wanting to get wet and cold for the second time we all decided to head to the next stop where we could make a dent on our 5 litre bags of goon. It turns out sailing, experiencing paradise and snorkelling is tiring – we were all in bed by 11 pm.

Whitsundays Snorkelling

Turtle Time

Another 7 am wake up and coffee set us up for our final morning in the Whitsundays. Before it was time to head back to the marina we were back in our snorkel masks and stinger suits. The bay we slept in happened to be a popular spot for turtles. So without even having to sail anywhere, we were in the perfect place to swim with these graceful creatures.

After an unsuccessful start, I noticed a green/brown shell in the distance. Breaking away from the rest of the group I slowly followed the turtle. It turns out they are really fast when swimming. Eventually, I caught up and floated just inches away from this wild animal. I quickly beckoned Sam over. Everyone else realised what was going on and the elusive turtle dived deeper than the visibility allowed us to see. A few more turtles were spotted but we never got as close to any of the others.

Leaving the Whitsundays

Early afternoon came and it was time for our final journey on board the Boomerang. On the way back we had one final lucky experience, a close-up humpback whale. As it was whale season we had been keeping an eye on the horizon looking for their telltale splash. It was as if the whale knew we were heading back and spent about 15 minutes following the boat and waving its huge fin at us. We eventually got back to the harbour marking the end of our tour of the Whitsundays. For the following few days, we had time to explore Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach

The first thing we wanted to do when we got back was get checked into our hostel and have a shower. The boat only had a small shower which required sitting on the toilet and had a time limit of 2 minutes per person, we hadn’t showered since arriving in Airlie Beach. After washing ourselves and all of our clothes it was time to get ready for the Whitsundays after party. That night we were reunited with some of the people from our boat as well as loads of the people from our Fraser Island trip. We got through all the free drink on offer and watched some of the drinking games before walking down the main strip to see what else was happening. We ended up buying a cheap bottle of wine and smuggling it back to our dorm.

The following day we went out for breakfast with our friends before they boarded their boat to the Whitsundays. After saying our goodbyes and arranging to meet up in Magnetic Island we went off to explore some of the shops and things to do around Airlie.

We had decided to try and save money until we got to Magnetic Island, meaning all of the tourist trips were off the cards. This wasn’t much of a problem seeing as most of the water sports had been rescheduled due to the weather. We ended up spending the remainder of the day at a bar watching Usain Bolt do his 100m sprint on a big screen. We spent the evening back at the bar with more of the people from the Whitsundays trips and our Fraser Island trip.

When the Ground Shakes

The following day was uneventful, after lunch, we headed back to our dorm to get changed. While in the room we noticed the windows were rattling and the ground shaking. Everyone outside seemed to freeze where they were and all we could hear was a rumble. About a minute later everything went back to normal. It turns out we had experienced our first ever earthquake, which after a quick google I found out reached a magnitude of 5.8.

Our final night saw us back at the same bar before heading to the bottle-o for another cheap bottle of wine. The next morning it was time to go on up to Townsville and on the ferry to Magnetic Island.

Agnes Waters – A Pretty Little Beach Town

Agnes Waters – A Pretty Little Beach Town

After Fraser Island, we went back to Noosa for one more night. That night we said goodbye to our Fraser Island friends over burritos and tacos. The following morning we were on a Greyhound and preparing for our entire day of travelling. We’d never heard of Agnes Waters we chose to stay there for a couple of nights to break up the almost 24-hour coach journey to Airlie Beach.

Finally, we reached Agnes Waters at around 6 pm. The hostel was huge and our dorm for the next 2 nights was a little log cabin with 3 bunk beds. It turned out that we were staying in the same dorm as one of the guys from Fraser Island. We all decided to walk half an hour into Agnes Waters’ town centre.

A Sleepy Town

This consisted of walking along a poorly lit main road with loads of crickets and toads buzzing the whole time. When we got to the town centre we soon realised it may be a bit difficult to get food. With just one restaurant in the whole area that was fully booked and every shop already closed, we ended up eating in a service station. We got the hostels free bus back and watched some of the Olympics. That night we discovered that Agnes Waters is absolutely freezing at night. With just a thin sheet to cover me and no warm clothes, I spent the whole night shivering myself to sleep.

Our Final Surf

We had heard that Agnes Waters is the last stop up the East Coast where you could surf. So the next morning we got up and headed for the beach. We rented a couple of boards and carried them to the beach. Renting surfboards was so cheap here, around $20 per person for the day! Unfortunately, we didn’t think to check the waves before we got there. After a good half an hour of sitting in the ocean without any waves, we headed back to shore. Our day was spent surfing, sunbathing and walking along the beautiful, quiet beach. We learnt from our mistake from the first day and had a big, late lunch in one of the cafes in the centre. We also went to the shop to buy food to cook later that night.

Surfing Agnes Waters

Agnes Waters Beach

Our last night in this sleepy town was spent at the hostel bar, eating fajitas and drinking beer. The next day we had another long journey to Airlie Beach. This time it was an overnight coach trip, leaving in the late afternoon and arriving early the following morning. On our final day, we stayed in the hostel. With so much land to explore there was plenty to keep us occupied.

If you’re thinking of heading to Agnes Waters on your East Coast trip then consider renting surfboards or taking a surf lesson. With the boards being so cheap to rent it’s a must. Also look into Scooteroo; a motorbike tour which takes you to the town of 1770. This nearby town is definitely worth a visit if you want to see Captain James Cook’s second landing point and first landing in Queensland.

Noosa and the Everglades

Noosa and the Everglades

Our next stop along the East Coast brought us to Noosa. Described to us as a rich person’s Byron Bay we were excited to explore the area. As the Greyhound had picked us up from the zoo it was pretty late by the time we arrived. We were staying in the Nomad’s Hostel for 2 nights, a short walk to the main beach and Hastings Street. Hastings Street runs parallel to the beach and is where you can find boutique shops and restaurants.

On arrival, we checked in and went straight to the onsite bar for a $10 burger and free beer. As Noosa is a popular stop before Fraser Island there were lots of backpackers. We ended up talking to some people in our dorm who had just returned from their Fraser Island tour. That night we went to sleep quite early for our tour of the Everglades te following morning.

The Everglades

For our Everglades tour, we were with a company called Noosa Everglades Discovery. They picked us up from our hostel and took us to Noosa River where our boat was waiting. Shortly after we were on the river and heading to the everglades. Noosa’s Everglades are one of just two in the World, the other being in Florida. This unique area of subtropical wetland is home to over 44% of all Australian bird species. It also has a history of logging, with some signs of it’s past still recognisable. For instance, part of the river becomes very shallow, at some points barely even knee deep. In order to transport the logs down the river, they dredged a boat-sized path which is still used today when accessing the everglades by boat.

As we headed into the everglades we were surrounded by a blanket of lilypads which are in bloom for most of the year. Not far from here was where we reached our first stop. Here we got off the boat and had morning tea in the bush. After filling up on cakes and coffee it was time to split up. Some people remained on the boat while some others were given canoes and told to carry on down the river until the next stop. We were on the boat for this part of the trip, and would later canoe the return journey. This part of the journey was the most picturesque. Here the water becomes almost opaque due to the tea tree content. The colour of the water combined with the lack of wind creates a mirror effect, where the trees perfectly reflect on the water.

Canoeing in the Everglades

The distance between the first stop and our lunch stop was around 3 kilometres. Knowing that we had to canoe on the return journey after eating didn’t feel me with confidence. Eventually, the canoers made it to the lunch stop where we had a BBQ and were shown a building from the logging days. This is also where Sam decided to go for a swim, in the freezing, black water which we were later told was home to Bullsharks. On the return journey, we were each given an oar and told to meet them further down the river. After struggling to figure out how to get the canoe moving in a straight line we were on our way. The everglades are said to be one of the top places to canoe in Australia, and I can see why. Being so low down you can feel the canoe slicing through the water, creating a ripple in the otherwise flat river. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease and peacefulness of the journey and didn’t want to stop when we eventually caught up with the boat.

The boat ride back took around an hour and we were back in Noosa by around 6 pm. That night we went to the hostel bar again for food and drinks. We met a few people who would be on the same Fraser Island tour as us so we spent some time with them.

Noosa Everglades

Exploring Noosa

For our final full day in Noosa, we decided to see the beach and have a look around some of the shops. Although the beach isn’t massive, it is pretty. With white sand, waves perfect for beginner surfers and a national park lining the South end Noosa main beach is perfect for a day of tanning and swimming. You can also hire Stand Up Paddleboards and surf boards here if you fancy something more adventurous.

Noosa Main Beach

After a walk along the beach, we found ourselves along Hastings Street. With surf shops, boutique clothing shops and handcrafted jewellery I was in my element. Sam wasn’t so impressed as I dragged him round every shop. After repeatedly having to remind myself I couldn’t spend all my savings on bikinis and anklets it was time for food. As we had a super early start the next morning for Fraser Island we decided to stay in the dorm. We ended up making friends with some drunk guys who were pre-drinking there.

To find out about my time in Fraser Island, what we did there and my favourite parts have a look at my article. For other articles I have written, check out my portfolio.

Byron Bay: Where the Hippies Come to Play

Byron Bay: Where the Hippies Come to Play

Our final stop before crossing the border into Queensland was Byron Bay. This well-known beach town is a popular spot for tourists, backpackers and hippies. A pristine beach where surfers and dolphins take it in turns to ride the waves makes this stop a must.

The Hostels

When we stayed at Byron Bay we split up our accommodation – spending 3 nights in the first hostel and 2 in another. This was due to a deal we had on accommodation with Nomads (a chain of hostels all over Australia).

Arts Factory Lodge

Our first 3 nights were spent at the Arts Factory Lodge. This hostel is owned by Nomads and featured in The Inbetweeners 2 movie. Although it’s about a 15-minute walk out of the town centre, there is a free bus that takes guests there regularly. There is also a beach volleyball court on site, a swimming pool as well as surfboard and bike hire. If you don’t fancy staying in a standard dorm room you can choose from a teepee, an ‘island retreat’ and a private room just to name a few. There is also camping facilities here as well as the option to park your campervan in the car park and use the hostel’s facilities.

This hostel attracts a wide variety of people and the herbal smells only add to the character of the relaxed, surfer meets hippy clientele. You definitely won’t get bored here. With free activities as well as paid massages, palm readings and lessons in didgeridoo making. Whether you’re weaving your own dream catcher or taking part in the weekly talent show you’re sure to make friends and memories at this one of a kind hostel.

Nomads: Byron Bay

Our last 2 nights in Byron Bay were spent in the other Nomads hostel this town has to offer. This time we were in a prime location, right in the centre of the town and only a few minutes from the beach. This hostel is a lot more simple with generic dorm rooms, a standard kitchen area and shared bathrooms.

But, there are still plenty of opportunities to save money and make friends. Most days there was some kind of meal offer on, including a weekly BBQ. As well as this there was a movie night. The facilities at this hostel included a small swimming pool with a hot tub, some hammocks and surfboard rental.

What we got up to

The Lighthouse Walk

During our 5 days in Byron Bay, we managed to see most of the main tourist attractions. On our first day, we headed straight for the lighthouse walk which takes you to the most Easterly point of Australia’s Mainlland. It also follows the coast and runs alongside the beach, ending with the perfect vantage point to watch the sunrise or set. This walk is well paved and not too steep, with stairs and handrails provided. Depending on what time of year you’re visiting, it is also a great opportunity to spot dolphins and whales.

Byron Bay LighthouseByron Bay Lighthouse Walk

Shopping

If like me, you love everything bohemian and the overpowering smell of incense sticks then you should try and set aside a day for shopping. Rummage through friendship bracelets, locally made jewellery and hareem pants until you feel at home in this hippy town. Or, check out the surf shops to feel like one of the locals when you head to the beach. The surf shops also offer surfboard hire, so if testing your skills in Byron Bay is on your todo list then shop around for the best rates. If like Sam you have no interest in shopping, then find a quirky bar or set up your towel on the beach and relax.

Byron Bay Shops

Dolphin Kayaking

One of my favourite moments from our time in Australia was sitting in a kayak, less than a metre away from a pod of at least 15 dolphins. Our tour company (Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay) picked us up from our hostel and drove us to the beach. We were all given wetsuits, lifejackets and helmets along with a safety brief. After carrying our kayaks to the water’s edge we learnt the basics of kayaking and were pushed off into the waves. We quickly paddled out to the ocean, eager to spot fins emerging from the water. As well as keeping an eye out for dolphins we often saw whales along the horizon. It is also common to see sea turtles, stingrays and small sharks while on this tour! Not long into the 3-hour tour, someone spotted a dolphin. We waited for the dolphins to approach us, not wanting to frighten them away. It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by a pod of playful dolphins, swimming and jumping around our group.

It was amazing to see so many wild dolphins come up close to the kayaks and definitely a unique experience. But, after around 2 hours of paddling through the wavey ocean, we were all aching and ready to make our way back to shore.

The Beach

Australia is known for having pristine beaches and Byron Bay certainly doesn’t disappoint. Stroll along the white sand and cool off in the waves which are patrolled by lifeguards. As well as the perfect beach, there is also ideal surfing waves, so grab a board and try and catch a few back to shore. If sand and surf isn’t your style then take a seat on the grass along the front. Here you can work on your tan while listening to buskers and sipping on fresh coconut water. Every evening this area comes alive with fire breathers, drummers and other entertainers.

Byron Bay Beach

The Markets

Check out the local farmer’s markets that happen each week in Byron Bay. Find fresh, local produce and gifts just a short walk away from the centre of Byron Bay. You can also expect live music, spontaneous dancing and happy people. Although we ran out of time to explore many of the markets, I believe they are all slightly different, some selling souvenirs, clothing and locally made gifts. Find out more about the markets here.

The Verdict

It’s hard not to love this chilled out beach town. Whether you want adventure, relaxation, a good atmosphere or great company you can find it all here. With great places to eat, including lots of vegetarian and vegan options and cool cocktail bars you can leave Byron Bay feeling refreshed.

Port Macquarie: Moving On Up

Port Macquarie: Moving On Up

Heading Up The Coast

When we started our East Coast trip back in July 2016 our first stop was Port Macquarie. This stop, around 6 hours on the Greyhound from Sydney, is often missed by backpackers eager to get to Byron Bay. However, in our 3 days here we squeezed in a lot of what this small beach town has to offer and were sad to leave so soon.

Our 6 pm departure from Sydney saw us arriving in Port Macquarie at around midnight. Just a short walk from the bus station brought us to Ozzie Pozzie, the beach themed hostel we would be calling home for the next few nights. The reception was closed but a small envelope with our room key was in a prearranged hiding place for our arrival. Being the first and only people in the hostel room we quickly claimed the bottom bunks and went straight to sleep before a day of exploring this unknown town.

Ozzie Pozzie Hostel
Ozzie Pozzie Hostel

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

That morning we woke up early and headed to reception to introduce ourselves and see what there was to do in Port Macquarie. Luckily, there was plenty to keep us busy for the next three days so we quickly got ready and walked to the beach front. Although July is considered one of Australia’s coldest months and by no means peak season the 5 kilometres of beaches between the town centre and the popular lighthouse were still picturesque and inviting. After strolling along a few of the bays we decided to head inland to discover the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

Port Macquarie Beach

This free sanctuary for rescued koalas is home to a range of furry tree huggers too injured to be released back into the wild as well as some in recovery who will be reunited with their koala friends. There are many cute koalas who are partially or completely blinded by Chlamydia which is a common disease that affects their eyes. As well as this, Koalas are commonly injured by bushfires and cars. Although this hospital helps save the lives of hundreds of koalas it also teaches of the damage humans are doing to koala populations which have massively depleted in the past few decades.

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
Koala Hospital

After meeting these real life teddy bears we headed back to the hostel to have a classic backpacker dinner of pasta and diced tomatoes. As the sun was setting we were told to head to the nearby forest where a huge colony of flying foxes would be starting their nightly migration. We walked amongst the trees when it was still light to see the branches filled with these impressive mammals before taking a seat in the graveyard on the edge of the forest making for an eery setting to watch this natural phenomenon.

As the light faded thousands of bats filled the skies, making it appear almost pitch black in places. After watching the last few bats make their evening journey we headed back to the hostel to see what the nightlife was like in this small, lesser known town. Unfortunately, the only people awake were a couple of guys playing chess so we retreated to our room for a chilled night.

Bats Port Macquarie

The Bike Ride Gone Bad

The following morning we decided to make the most of the cheap bike hire in the hostel and go for a leisurely ride along the beach front. As we collected the bikes we realised this was going to be a bit harder than we initially thought. The bikes had no gears and the only way to slow down was to peddle backwards – I’m not the strongest rider at the best of times so was definitely not feeling too confident.

As we set off we also discovered that Port Macquarie is fairly hilly and I spent a lot of the time pushing my bike up hills and squealing as I sped down the other side. We arrived at the beach front with the expectation of an easy ride along the promenade. Instead, we had the option of riding on sand or along a thin, root covered path through the rainforest. We decided on the second path having been given strict instructions against riding on sand.

As we started we quickly realised that this bike ride was going to be more of a bike push. With the paths being single file and a steady stream of people walking in the opposite direction there wasn’t much opportunity to ride without having to stop to let pedestrians pass. After a solid 3 hours of riding uphills, pushing our bikes over sand, rocks, tree roots and up the stairs we eventually made it to the Port Macquarie Lighthouse, and the first stop since we set off where we could buy a drink. After putting on a brave face for some achievement photos we locked up the bikes and walked are shaky legs to the beach cafe for a burger and a drink.

Lighthouse Beach Port Macquarie

Despite the treacherous journey to the lighthouse, it was definitely worth our efforts for the miles of beaches we got to see and the impressive lighthouse and panoramic views that came with it. I would recommend the bike hire if you’re staying at Ozzie Pozzie as it is so cheap and provides a unique way of getting around Port Macquarie, just stick to the roads!

Luckily, on the return journey, we learnt from our mistake and stayed on the roads, getting back in no more than half an hour!

Port Macquarie Lighthouse Bike Ride

Port Macquarie Lighthouse

A Sub-Tropical Adventure

For our final day in Port Macquarie, the rain made an appearance. This didn’t ruin our plans of seeing the sub-tropical rainforest but instead enhanced the experience. After another early start, we walked in the same direction we had cycled the day before until we reached the start of the Sea Acres Rainforest walk.

We paid a small entrance fee which allowed us to walk along a raised boardwalk and see the beautifully green canopy from a new perspective. With vines and palm trees at eye level and tree trunks reaching below us we really were in amongst the rainforest. Here the rain barely even touched us as the broad leaves acted as a natural shelter. After completing the walk and keeping an eye out for some interesting Aussie wildlife we headed in the direction of the hostel via the same paths we had previously walked our bikes through. This time we were able to truly appreciate the beauty of the nature that surrounded us. The contrast between the blue sea, the white sand and the green rainforest definitely reminded me just how far away from home we really were.

Sea Acres Rainforest

On returning back to the hostel we found out that it was cheap pizza and goon night so we quickly signed up. Thanks to the promise of cheap food the social area of the hostel was a lot busier than the previous two nights and we got talking to some of the staff who work for accommodation.

By the end of the night, we were full up on pizza and had finished off a few litres of goon and half a bottle of rum while playing drinking games and getting progressively louder. We also learnt that our new drunk best friend would be the minibus driver taking us to the Greyhound pick-up point the next morning.