Browsed by
Tag: nsw

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.

Surf Camp: Finding Our Mojo

Surf Camp: Finding Our Mojo

Where Next?

A few hours South of Byron Bay is a small beach called Arrawarra. With consistent waves ideal for beginners and barely anyone else in the area this is the perfect spot to learn the basics of surfing. While we travelled up the East Coast we spent 5 days here and left feeling confident enough to hire surfboards and try out our new skills.

Surf Camp Beach

The Arrival

Our Greyhound Coach dropped us off at around 4 am. A minibus was ready and waiting to take us to our new home for the next 5 days. On arrival, we were taken straight to our room – a shipping container with 2 bunk beds. We were told our first surf lesson would be at 10 am so we had a few hours sleep before starting our first day at surf camp.

We woke up, I found the bikini that was least likely to fall off in the waves and we headed to reception. After a brief walk around the camp, the receptionist took us to surf school. An outdoor seating area complete with hammocks and more surfboards than I could count.

Surf Camp Sign

Surf School

A tanned guy with long blonde hair introduced himself as our surf instructor and took us through the basics. We learnt about rips, different kinds of waves and hand signals (most importantly shakas along with a loud ‘yewwwww’ when you catch a wave). We were told to pick a wetsuit from the rack. They were torn and had holes in and were all slightly damp, making them hard to put on.

After the essentials, we grabbed some massive foam surfboards and walked 5 minutes to the beach. Here we did a quick warm up before learning the most important part of surfing – the pop-up. We were all instructed to lay on the sand on our hand drawn surfboards and started paddling. After a few paddles, an imaginary wave approaches us, at it reaches our toes we do another 3 paddles before ‘popping up’. The way we were taught to pop up is to bring your front foot up to your hands, your back foot up to the knee of the front foot and stand while simultaneously turning your feet to the side.

On land, I had mastered the pop-up and wanted to test my new found skills in the water. We carried/dragged our huge surfboards into the water and waited for a wave. I was the first to attempt riding a wave but was unsuccessful. Next was Sam, he has some weird talent of being good at any sport and obviously stood up the first time. And finally was the other girl in our group, who also didn’t manage to stand. On my second go I was determined to ride my first wave, and somehow I managed it! For the rest of the 2-hour class, we took it in turns to try and stand up. Sometimes succeeding but generally falling off in some spectacular ways.

Surfing Surf CampSurfing Surf Camp

The Camp

We wriggled out of our wetsuits and headed back to camp. It was almost lunch so we hung around the seating area where we would be eating. As it was still the middle of offseason the camp was extremely quiet – there were more staff members than actual guests. Eventually, someone called out that it was lunchtime and a surge of Mojo Surf staff appeared, forming a line for the food.

The surf camp food was pretty simple, just tonnes of pasta and rice and salad piled on a plastic plate. It was fine for a few days but by day 5 we were sick of eating pasta every day! After having seconds we decided to go and explore the camp. This place was quite basic – with one large room for food that gained a ping pong table when food wasn’t being served, a campfire area, shipping container dorms, a few teepees (for extra accommodation) and a brief walkway to the beach.

The thing that really made this place special was the people. On our first evening, a new group of surf beginners arrived at the camp for their lessons the following morning. We all sat together eating our pasta and discussed travelling, home countries, experiences and plans. The lack of signal and expensive WiFi charges meant everyone was happy sitting and talking without the distraction of their phones.

That evening was the weekly trivia quiz night at the nearby pub. We all decided to go along and test our international knowledge. We had quite a mix of countries in our group including English, German, Dutch and French so we were feeling confident. Unfortunately, all of the questions were about Australia and we did awfully! After 4 hours of surfing, Kangaroo Golf and a very early morning we were tired and in desperate need of a good night sleep.

When We Weren’t Surfing

Unfortunately, as it was offseason there was not a lot around camp to fill the time when we weren’t surfing. Luckily, for an extra charge, you could do other afternoon activities with the instructors. These included ocean rafting, kayaking, kangaroo golf and a 2 hour afternoon surfing session. We all opted to pay the extra and took part in most of these activities. A personal favourite of mine was Kangaroo Golf. Despite being awful at playing golf it was cool to be at a golf course where wild Kangaroos called home. Although these bouncy creatures weren’t as friendly as the ones you’ll find in zoos they let you get close enough to get a selfie.

Ocean Rafting Surf Camp

Kangaroo Golf Surf Camp

As well as outdoor activities we also played a lot of ping-pong and made a few trips to the bottle-o. On Saturday nights Surf Camp becomes a party camp. After buying our alcohol the social/chill out room gets transformed. We ended up teaching each other drinking games from our home countries and learning loads of new ring of fire rules. The camp fire also created a perfect setting for a few beers or a bag of goon. Although our clothes did end up stinking of smoke by the end of the 5 days.

The Verdict

Apart from learning to surf we also learnt the best cure for a hangover. An early morning and going into the ocean. After a few nose dives, I felt as good as new. From our first surf lesson to over 20 hours of supervised surfing we had learnt to stand, slow down and speed up, turn and how to get out to the back of the set. We were also taught surfing etiquette and good warm ups before heading into the ocean.

Overall, our time in surf camp was an amazing experience and if you have enough time I would recommend staying for the 5 days. But, if you don’t have the time at least try and stay for a couple of days. Although we were ready to leave and get back to reality by the end, the isolated location made for the ideal setting for this chilled out surf camp.

If you want to have a look at booking your own Surf Camp experience then head to their website. Mojo Surf hold lessons in Byron Bay and Bali as well. Lengths of stays vary from a single surf lesson to a 3-month surf instructor course.

 

Coffs Harbour: The Big Banana

Coffs Harbour: The Big Banana

The next stop on our journey to Cairns was Coffs Harbour. Another town which is often bypassed on people’s East Coast trips.

Hoey Moey was the hostel we stayed in for the 2 nights we were there. This is a working hostel, popular with construction workers and farm workers. It is also just a 1-minute walk from the dorm rooms to the beach!

Coffs Harbour Beach

Let’s Go To The Beach

As the temperature had started to improve since leaving Sydney and travelling North we decided to make the most of our prime location and spent our first day exploring the beaches. We went on a walk, following the coast to see where we ended up while trying to catch a bit of a tan. Although we considered the low 20 degrees temperatures hot enough for the beach clearly no one else had the same idea – we had the whole beach practically to ourselves.

Coffs Harbour Beach

Coffs Harbour Beach

Not only was the hostel in the perfect location, it also had a bar, restaurant and bottle shop on site. After getting something cheap from the restaurant on our first night, we found the cheapest ‘goon’ we could get our hands on and played card games in the dorm room.

The following morning we experienced our first proper wildlife encounter since being in Australia. As I stepped out of the dorm room I noticed a reptile just by the door frame. At first, I could only see the head and thought it was a snake, but as it wriggled under the brickwork I saw legs. We later found out it was a blue-tongued lizard.

The Big Banana of Coffs Harbour

After that excitement, we decided to walk to the ‘big banana’. We had heard about this bright yellow banana statue a few times in conversation and felt that we had to see it for ourselves. The walk from the hostel to the banana took a while but it was worth the effort.

It turns out that the Big Banana statue is part of a waterpark and gift shop which features loads of banana inspired souvenirs. Although we didn’t go to the water park we did get a picture with the banana. Australia seems to have a lot of weird items enlarged into statue form. Since we’ve been here we’ve seen a big banana, a big boot, a big kangaroo and a dog. All with no real connection to the area around them.

Big Banana Coffs Harbour

That evening we ventured into the harbour and had some gourmet burgers while we sat outside around an open fire. Apart from inhaling some smoke, the burgers were tasty! We went back to the hostel shortly after for an early night. The next morning we had a 4 am wake up before our next adventure… Surf Camp!

Overall, our time in Coffs Harbour was short but sweet. I can imagine this town would be incredible in the summer months. Especially with the hostel being so close to the endless stretch of beaches. We were also told that Coffs Harbour is a great surfing spot so we would definitely look into hiring some surfboards if we ever go back.

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.

 

 

 

 

The Blue Mountains: A Blue Haze

The Blue Mountains: A Blue Haze

One of my favourite memories from our first week in Sydney was The Blue Mountains. We only planned this trip the day before and got a last minute booking with a company called Happy Travels who would be picking us up at 7 am the following morning.

That morning also happened to be the day we were checking out of our hostel in favour of an Air BnB in Coogee. So we woke up at half 5 in the morning, repacked our backpacks and checked out of the hostel before the 15-minute walk to our pick-up point. As other tour buses heading to the mountains came and went we started wondering whether we had been forgotten about but just as we went to call the company a tour guide shouted our names and we were on our way.

Featherdale Wildlife Park

To break up the 2-hour drive from Sydney’s CBD to the Blue Mountains we had a 1 hour stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park. This was our first chance to see Australia’s native animals; including Kangaroos, Koalas, Dingoes, Wombats and Cassowaries to name a few. An hour gave us plenty of time to stroke the koalas, hand feed the kangaroos and get some postcards from the gift shop.

Feeding Kangaroos Featherdale Wildlife Park

Kangaroo at Featherdale Wildlife Park

The Blue Mountains

It was another hour coach journey before we reached our first stop in the Blue Mountains. Here we went on a short walk to the famous rock formation – the Three Sisters. The walk took us through a sub-tropical rainforest where we were convinced we would see a snake or spider lurking in the trees. The funnel-web spider is a very venomous species of spider which is regularly found in the Blue Mountains; luckily you won’t bump into one of these killers unless you start poking around in the holes where they sit and wait for prey to show up.

The view of the mountain range is not a disappointment and rightly called the Blue Mountains, unfortunately, the pictures from my iPhone 5 don’t even begin to do it justice (I’m hoping to go back to the Blue Mountains in the next month so I can get some better pictures). The blue haze which gives the mountains their name is caused by the masses of eucalyptus trees which release a chemical that scatters light wavelengths causing the blue-greyish appearance of the distant mountains.

The Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

While looking out over the mountain range and admiring the three sisters (also known as Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo) our tour guide told us an aboriginal-style story about how the rock formation came to be. We were also given aboriginal face paint which was made by mixing the sandstone from the mountains with water.

It was now time for lunch so we were driven to a hostel in a small village within the mountain range. While we ate our lunch from the comfort of an open fire and incredible views of the surrounding area we were asked if we wanted to go on a second bush walk before going back to the CBD. We all agreed to go and after lunch, we were driven to our final stop for the day.

This walk took us through another sub-tropical rainforest and lead us to a waterfall. Standing just a few metres away from the water as it rushed into the pool by our feet was an incredible experience and marked our first time ever seeing a waterfall. The walk now continued uphill until we came out to another viewing platform which provided one last chance to admire the mountains before the 2-hour drive back to the city. After a long day, I fell asleep for almost the whole journey home.

Blue Mountains Waterfall

Waterfall at the Blue Mountains
NB – Don’t wear shorts to the Blue Mountains in the middle of Australian winter!
Making It In Sydney

Making It In Sydney

The Arrival

On Monday 13th June we arrived in Sydney and spent a few moments feeling proud of ourselves for getting there with no problems. From the airport, we were greeted by a rickety old minibus ready to take us to our new ‘home’.

There was a lot of time to kill before check-in so we walked around Darling Harbour; a dock lined with restaurants and bars – and only a 5-minute walk from our hostel. It is also the location of Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussaud’s Sydney and The Australian National Maritime Museum. After grabbing some lunch and exploring Australia’s biggest city we were able to get the key to our room.

Feeling tired and anxious to experience our first night in a hostel we made our way up to our 8-man dorm room only to be greeted by the grunts of 6 half-asleep boys and the smell of BO infused with piss. I immediately got on the WiFi and let my parents know that I’d made it there safely and everything was good. X Base Hostel where we were staying for our first week in Sydney is a party hostel right in the centre of Darlinghurst and joined to Scary Canary – a bar that is featured on Geordie Shore and home to the ‘Scary Jar’. We turned down a night out in ‘Scaries’ with our new roomies in favour of an early night to make up for the 24 hours we had just spent on a plane.

Settling In

After catching up on sleep and getting the important admin done it was time to get out and explore. Unsurprisingly our first stop was Circular Quay – home to The Opera House and The Harbour Bridge. I probably took 100 pictures and selfies around Circular Quay and from Mrs. Macquarie’s Point that day.

Right next to the Opera House are the Botanical Gardens which are equally as picturesque, providing a peaceful getaway from the City just behind. You can follow the gardens all the way along to Mrs. Macquarie’s Point which is where the postcard-like view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge can be seen.

After walking back from the gardens we returned to the hostel, showered and changed ready to see the city light up for Vivid Festival; a free festival where projections of lights are displayed on major buildings all around Sydney. We sat across from the Opera House, eating dinner while watching patterns and stories come to life on the Opera House roof.

Overall, our first couple of days in Sydney were amazing, although we arrived in Australia’s winter we were lucky enough to get clear blue skies and temperatures in the 20’s which for us ‘Pommies’ was hot. We started to feel settled and comfortable in our new, temporary home and started looking on Air BnB for somewhere other than a hostel to stay for our first few weeks.